Good guillemot news from Sweden

This video from England says about itself:

(Common) Guillemot (Uria aalge)

Filmed on Inner Farne, the Farne Islands, Northumberland, UK on 6th June 2013 with a Canon PowerShot SX30 IS. (Black-legged) Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) and Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) also feature.

From the 2000 report Long-term study of mortality in the common guillemot in the Baltic Sea:

The common guillemot is a seabird that was almost extinct in the Baltic Sea at the end of the 19th century, due to hunting and collection of eggs. Only about 20 birds remained in 1880. Following legal protection of the species and its breeding areas, the population has increased to about 45,000 birds today. The common guillemot was on the 1996 Swedish Red List of threatened vertebrates, in the category “Care Demanding”.

As guillemots are slow to reach maturity, are long-lived and produce only a few offspring each year, the population is particularily vulnerable to factors that affect adult survival.

Each summer, the fledglings jump from the nesting ledges to the beach or sea below, to swim out to sea with the males. What fate awaits them during their lifetime?

This report is a follow-up of the Swedish Action Plan on Biological Diversity, which was published in 1995: “Action 26” states the need to continue to study and analyse the habitat requirements of red-listed species and the need for measures to protect them.

Nearly 43,000 common guillemots were ringed in Sweden from 1912 to 1998, mainly on the island of Stora Karlsö in the southern Baltic proper. About 6 % of the ringed birds have been recovered. Of the recovered birds, 50 % were found entangled in fishing gear, mainly in the southern Baltic Sea. It appears that the main culprit is the commercial drift-net fishery for salmon. The proportion of oiled birds was smaller, and has decreased since the 1960s to less than 5 % today.

It is alarming that so many guillemots meet a painful death by drowning in fishing gear. Moreover, many of the bycatches of birds caught in fisheries may never be reported. The results show that measures need to be implemented to prevent guillemots from drowning in commercial fisheries in the Baltic Sea.

From PBS in the USA:

Tourist photos trace the fall and rise of Swedish seabirds

By Nsikan Akpan

March 21, 2016 at 1:20 PM EDT

Instead of throwing away those old vacation photos, consider saving them for science. Swedish ecologists collected nearly a century’s worth of tourist photos to trace the history of a single seabird, the common guillemot. Pulled from myriad sources, the photos tell a single tale of ecological hardship, caused by man-made destruction, but also of the guillemot’s renaissance.

The researchers behind this study relied on these amateur photos because, in general, the scientific record for many ecosystems is incomplete or incoherent. In many case, standardized methods for examining ecology didn’t exist until 30 or 40 years ago.

“Based on this experience, we encourage scientists to think ‘outside the box’ in order to generate data valuable for use in ecosystem-based management,” Jonas Hentati-Sundberg and Olof Olsson of Stockholm Resilience Centre write in their study.

The common guillemot is an Arctic, fish-eating seabird that dwells in subarctic portions of the Northern Hemisphere. In fact, two of every three common guillemot[s] live on a single island in the Baltic Sea, Stora Karlsö.

Probably, the author means two of every three birds of the Swedish population; not of the world population.

This island has a unique conservation story. In the late 1880s, Stora Karlsö was purchased by a private company to create a nature and hunting conservatory. But since the 1920s, the island has primarily served as a hotspot for nature tourism.

For the birds, these events meant their colonies would be largely unbothered by hunting, construction or other disruptive activities. For scientists, it meant a trove of amateur photos documenting the evolution of Stora Karlsö’s bird colonies.

To create an ecological scrapbook for the common guillemot, Hentati-Sundberg and Olsson dived into national and regional archives. They made requests to magazines and asked for submissions via a local radio station. In the end, the pair collected 113 amateur photographs, covering 37 individual years between 1918 and 2005. Next, they counted the number of breeding pairs within each photo to provide a rough estimate of the population size.

The team expected numbers to be low early on, given that common guillemots were heavily poached for food and eggs until the late 1800s, and that’s what they found in the pictures. Photos from 1918 to the 1940s show the lowest number of breeding pairs. These numbers start to then steadily rise for 20 years, until the birds hit a bump in the road. Their population drops between the mid-1960s until mid-1980s — a time period that corresponds to the introduction of DDT pesticide and PCB coolant.

“It is reasonable to expect that contaminants had a role in the decline,” Hentati-Sundberg said in a statement. “It has not been known previously that seabird populations were affected by the contaminants.”

Atlantic salmon fishing boomed during this time period, which may have hurt guillemot populations. The birds often get trapped in fishing nets.

But the story has a happy ending. The authors suspect that policies to curb environmental pollutants, hunting and driftnet fishing are responsible for the common guillemot’s rebound.

“We found that the population is currently increasing at an unprecedented rate of about 5 percent annually,” Jonas Hentati-Sundberg said. “This is interesting in that many common guillemot populations are decreasing worldwide.”

The authors findings, along with a list of the contributing photographers, were published today in the journal Current Biology.

Close to Stora Karlsö is a still smaller island, Lilla Karlsö. Lilla Karlsö has its own chapter in the well known Nils Holgersson (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils) children’s novel by Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf. The chapter says that Nils managed to trick the foxes of Lilla Karlsö, which were a danger to the geese, Nils’ travel companions, into a rock chasm.

9 thoughts on “Good guillemot news from Sweden

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