From both sides: dire demographic consequences of carnivorous mice and longlining for the critical endangered Tristan albatrosses on Gough Island

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Biological Conservation

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University of Cape Town

The IUCN recently uplisted the Tristan albatross (Diomedea dabbenena) to Critically Endangered. Here we present new data indicating negative population trends on Gough Island arising from low adult survival (∼91%, ascribed to accidental mortality on fishing gear) and low breeding success (averaging 32%, due to mouse predation). Fledgling production from 1979 to 2007 and numbers of incubating adults from 1956 to 2007 have both decreased by ∼1% p.a. Consecutive annual counts of incubating adults and a population model permit the first reliable estimates of the Tristan albatross population, presently 5400 breeding adults and 11,300 birds in all age- and stage-classes. Population models explore scenarios of likely demographic trends using combinations of hypothetical best-case estimates vs. observed estimates for two key parameters: adult survival and breeding success. These scenarios highlight the relative benefits to the species of eradicating mice or mitigating bycatch. The model scenario using observed estimates predicts annual growth rate at −2.85%. Adult survival rates have probably decreased in recent years, concomitant with increased longline fishing effort, which might explain the discrepancy between counts and modelled trends. Negative trends cannot be reversed by improving breeding success alone, and adult survival must exceed an improbable 97% to balance the current chick production. A worst-case scenario including a fixed number of adult deaths annually predicted a catastrophic 4.2% p.a. decrease and extinction in ∼30 years. Population growth was most sensitive to adult survival, but even using an adult survival estimate without fishery mortality, current breeding success is insufficient to maintain the population. These findings do not support the ‘compensatory mitigation of bycatch’ model (offsetting bycatch impacts by eradicating invasive species), and the impacts of both fishery mortality and mouse predation must be addressed to improve the conservation status of the Critically Endangered Tristan albatross.