Amsterdam Albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis): downlist from Critically Endangered to Endangered?

This discussion was first published as part of the 2016 Red List update. At the time a decision regarding its status was pended, but to enable potential reassessment of this species as part of the 2018 Red List update this post remains open and the date of posting has been updated.

BirdLife species factsheet for Amsterdam Albatross: 
Amsterdam Albatross Diomedea amsterdamensis breeds only on Amsterdam Island (French Southern Territories) in the southern Indian Ocean. Since 1994 it has been listed as Critically Endangered under criteria (B2ab(v); C2a(ii)), since it was estimated to have an extremely small population, with breeding confined to a tiny area on one island, and continuing declines projected owing to diseases causing chick mortality. However, the population has been steadily increasing since at least 1984, when the first census was carried out. In 2007, the total population was estimated at 167 individuals (Rivalan et al. 2010), 86 of which were adults. The breeding population has reached 46 pairs in 2014 (unpublished CNRS Chizé data from 2014 submitted to ACAP). On average, adult survival is just over 97%, the highest ever found for an albatross (Cuthbert et al. 2004, Rivalan et al. 2010). Juvenile survival of up to 70% is also very high compared to other albatross species and this in part may explain the gradual growth of this population over the 1980s and 1990s (Weimerskirch et al. 1997). The reported breeding success of 61-70% is similar to values reported for other Diomedea species (Weimerskirch et al. 1997).
A cause for concern, however, is a recent decline in breeding success in D. amsterdamensisthat was paralleled with the continuous decrease since 1992 of the Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross population (Thalassarche carteri) on Amsterdam Island (Weimerskirch 2004). The decrease of breeding success in T. carteri has led to a rapid decrease in population size in some colonies where avian cholera (Pasteurella multocida) killed mainly chicks, but also adults. The death of 66% of D. amsterdamensis chicks in 2000 and 74% in 2001 has not yet been attributed to an outbreak of avian cholera in this species (Weimerskirch 2004), however both avian cholera and Erysipelas bacterium (Erisipelothrix rhusiopathidae) were detected in D. amsterdamensis chicks and four other seabird species screened on Amsterdam Island in 2011-2012 (Jaeger et al. 2013). In addition, tuna longline fishing operates in the waters around Amsterdam Island, so bycatch may present a further threat (Rivalan et al. 2010).
Nevertheless, given c.30 years of data showing a steady population increase (and no data from before this period), and the fact that projected continuing declines have not yet materialised, the species appears to no longer qualify as Critically Endangered under criteria B2ab and C2a (both require a “continuing decline”). However, Amsterdam Albatross would qualify as Endangered under criterion D (total population numbering fewer than 250 mature individuals) since the population has numbered >50 mature individuals for at least five years.
Any comments on the proposed downlisting are welcome.

Cuthbert, R., Sommer, E., Ryan, P., Cooper, J., and Hilton, G. 2004. Demography and conservation of the Tristan albatross Diomedea [exulans] dabbenena. Biological Conservation 117: 471-481
Jaeger, A., Bastien, M., Lebarbenchon, C., Tortosa, P., Thiebot, J.-B., Marteau, C., and Weimerskirch, H. 2013. Molecular detection of seven infectious agents in seabirds of Amsterdam Island. PCSWG1 Doc 10. Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. First meeting of the Population and Conservation Status Working Group. La Rochelle, France, 29-30 April.
Rivalan, P., Barbraud, C., Inchausti, P., and Weimerskirch, H. 2010. Combined impacts of longline fisheries and climate on the persistence of the Amsterdam Albatross Diomedia amsterdamensis. Ibis 152: 6-18.
Weimerskirch, H., Brothers, N., and Jouventin, P. 1997. Population dynamics of wandering albatross Diomedea exulans and Amsterdam albatross D. amsterdamensis in the Indian Ocean and their relationships with long-line fisheries: Conservation implications. Biological Conservation 79: 257-270.
Weimerskirch, H. 2004. Diseases threaten Southern Ocean albatrosses. Polar Biology 27: 374-379.


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4 Responses to Amsterdam Albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis): downlist from Critically Endangered to Endangered?

  1. Henri Weimerskirch says:

    As I indicated it earlier to Birdlife, I do not think that this decision to downlist Amsterdam albatrosses is a good decision. Indeed the population is still very small, one of the smallest of any bird species, less than 200 individuals. However because it is well monitored, compared to any other species with such small numbers, it is possible to apply criteria that cannot be applied to other species because of the lack of information. Yet the population now appears to be stabilising rather than continuing its increase, with strong fluctuations and the risks are clearly identitifed. Avian cholera has decimated the other albatross population on the island, the colonies are at less than a kilometers from the small colony of Amsterdam Albatross, and skuas that are all carrying the diseases are commuting between colonies. Furthermore, the most recent studies show that some Amsterdam albatrosses have already been infected. So an outbreak of the disease in the population is highly possible, and can occur at any time. For these reasons I think that the decision to downlist Amsterdam albatross is difficult to understand and might have negative implication for the conservation of the species by providing a wrong message to the French authorities for example.

  2. James Westrip (BirdLife) says:

    Based on available information, our proposal for the 2016 Red List would be to pend the decision on this species and keep this discussion open until 2017, while leaving the current Red List category unchanged in the 2016 update.

    Final 2016 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in early December, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  3. Andy Symes (BirdLife) says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our proposal for the 2017 Red List would be to pend the decision on this species and keep this discussion open until 2018, while leaving the current Red List category unchanged in the 2017 update.

    There is now a period for further comments until a final deadline of 11 August for the 2017 update. Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from the initial proposal.

    The final 2017 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in early December, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN

  4. Graeme Taylor says:

    I work with a number of endangered seabird species in New Zealand. While the IUCN listing criteria might suggest that Amsterdam albatross are stable and increasing, I agree with Henri that the species is still extremely rare and its short and long-term fate is still very uncertain. To down list to endangered would give the wrong signal to funding agencies for a species that could easily slip back into a critical state. Disease issues on the island as well as new fishing pressures could easily change the current status within several years. For example the Antipodes Island population of Diomedea antipodensis has crashed by more than 50% in the past 10 years. We still don’t know what has caused this sudden decline but the population had more than 5000 breeding pairs to start with before the crash. With less than 50 breeding pairs, a similar rapid change in status of Amsterdam albatross would be catastrophic. It is far too soon to consider down listing this seabird in my opinion.

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