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Climate change is driving albatrosses to divorce

Stress and the pressures of long-distance relationships might be causing albatrosses to divorce (Picture: Getty)

Scientists think the stress of climate change is proving too much for one of the world’s most monogamous birds.

Albatrosses are fiercely loyal – once they find a good match they are set for life and rarely break up.

In fact, ‘divorce’ rates among the seabirds are just 1% – far lower than their human counterparts.

But a study of around 15,500 breeding pairs in the Falkland Islands over 15 years has found this might be changing.

During the decade and a half, scientists monitored the birds and found that in the years with warmer water temperatures up to 8% of couples split up.

The study says ‘environmentally-driven divorce may be an overlooked consequence’ of climate change.

In albatross terms, divorce effectively means cheating.

Normally, a couple would only break up if a pair failed to breed, so each would find new partners for the next breeding season.

Albatross couple seeminly arguing

‘This isn’t working’ – Albatross divorce rates have increased by around 7% (Picture: Alan Crawford)

But the study found the birds were divorcing even if they’d had successfully mated.

Dr Francesco Ventura, a researcher at the University of Lisbon and co-author of the study said there may be two possible reasons for the rise in the albatross divorces.

The first is linked to the struggles of long-distance relationships.

As sea temperatures rise birds are forced to fly further and for longer to find food, meaning they may not make it back in time for the breeding season.

If birds fail to return in time, their partners may move on to a new mate.

Falkland island

Researchers studied the birds on the Falkland Islands over a 15-year period (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The second theory is that the birds’ level of stress hormones may be increased by the harsher environments created by climate change.

Tougher breeding conditions and less food can cause stress meaning a partner may be blamed for their ‘poor performance’ which could ultimately trigger a divorce, Dr Ventura said.

The findings come as many international albatross populations are in trouble.

Data from 2017 suggests the number of breeding pairs of the species is a little more than half of what it was in the 1980s.

At the moment researchers who studied the Falklands Islands population said there was no ‘immediate concern’ for the colony but other population drops were a worry.

‘Temperatures are going up and will go up, so this might introduce more disruptions,’ Dr Ventura added.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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