Archived 2012-2013 topics: Amsterdam Albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis): downlist to Endangered?

BirdLife Species Factsheet for Amsterdam Albatross Amsterdam Albatross Diomedea amsterdamensis breeds only on Amsterdam Island (French Southern Territories) in the southern Indian Ocean. Snce 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 (Weimerskirch et al. 1997, Inchausti and Weimerskirch 2001, H. Weimerskirch in litt. 2005, 2010). There is now an estimated total population of c.170 birds including 80 mature individuals, with c.26 pairs breeding annually (Rains et al. 2011). The population is nevertheless considered to be smaller than historic levels, when it is thought to have had a more extensive breeding range over the slopes of the island (Weimerskirch et al. 1997). In addition, Amsterdam Albatross is believed to have suffered severe declines in the 1970s (perhaps owing to degradation of breeding sites by introduced cattle, human , introduced predators, particularly feral cats, and possibly interactions with longline fisheries around the island [Inchausti and Weimerskirch 2001]) and so, over three generations (c.82 years), has almost certainly declined overall. The primary future threat is thought to be the potential spread of diseases (avian cholera and Erysipelothrix rhusiopathidae) that affect the Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross Thalassarche carteri population 3 km from the colony (Weimerskirch 2004), whilst the foraging range of the species overlaps with longline fishing operations targeting tropical tuna species, so bycatch may present a further threat (ACAP 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 arguably does not qualify 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) if the population has numbered >50 mature individuals for at least five years. This seems plausible, but it is important to establish whether the species numbered fewer than 50 mature individuals at any point since 1988 (when the species was first assessed for the IUCN Red List). If so, when it is likely to have exceeded this threshold? This information is required in order to incorporate into the Red List Index (for all birds, and for ACAP-listed species specifically). Comments are invited on this proposal to downlist to Endangered, specifically whether a “continuing decline” should be projected on the basis of the risk of disease and/or bycatch, and whether the population has numbered fewer than 50 mature individuals at any point since 1988, and if so, when this threshold was exceeded. References ACAP. 2010. Species assessments: Amsterdam Albatross Diomedea amsterdamensis. Downloaded from on 22 March 2013. Inchausti, P.; Weimerskirch, H. 2001. Risks of decline and extinction of the endangered Amsterdam Albatross and the projected impact of long-line fisheries. Biological Conservation 100: 377-386. Rains D., Weimerskirch H., Burg T.M. 2011. Piecing together the global population puzzle of wandering albatrosses: genetic analysis of the Amsterdam albatross Diomedea amsterdamensis. Journal of Avian Bioiogy. 42: 69-79 Weimerskirch, H.; Brothers, N.; 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 Archived 2012-2013 topics: Amsterdam Albatross (Diomedea amsterdamensis): downlist to Endangered?

  1. Peter Hirst says:

    170 Amsterdam Albatrosses left alive on the planet and you think you should downgrade the threat assessment to them – you need to throw your daft guidelines out the window and use your brains and your discretion to make a sensible decision.

    • Andy Symes says:

      Hi Peter, thanks for your comment.

      Do please bear in mind that Endangered status still indicates a ‘very high risk of extinction in the wild’, and that criterion D of the Red List explicitly accounts for the fact that very small populations are inherently at risk of extinction even where they are not currently declining. Of course, species which currently have larger populations but that are on a very rapid downward trajectory may have an even higher risk of extinction than those with very small populations that are currently stable, hence why there are species with much larger populations classified as CR.

      There are over 30 other bird species currently classified as Endangered which are estimated to have a population of 50-250 mature individuals, so the albatross, while at the lower end of this range, would not be an isolated case were it to be downlisted.
      Nevertheless, if there is felt that there is sufficient evidence to project that the species will decline in future, it can and will be maintained as Critically Endangered.

      I’m sorry that you feel that the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria are daft – we recognise that they don’t work perfectly for every taxon and in every situation, but they remain the most widely used and best accepted objective framework for assessing extinction risk within and across taxonomic groups. There is room for discretion and a precautionary approach in interpretation of the available data, but I would suggest that throwing the guidelines out of the window isn’t helpful for anyone…

      If you have any information to add on the likelihood of future declines in the species due to disease, bycatch or other threats we would be glad to hear from you.

  2. At its last meeting in April 2013, the ACAP Population and Conservation Status Working Group recognised that this population has steadily increased over the last 30 years and that its status as Critically Endangered depended on the projection of population declines which had not eventuated. Although this species would currently qualify as Endangered under criterion D, the Working Group considered that the potential risk of transmission of pathogenic disease to this tiny population, with consequential population decline, warranted its retention in the category of Critically Endangered.

  3. Christophe Barbraud says:

    Concerning the question whether the species numbered fewer than 50 mature individuals at any point since 1988, the answer is yes. From the matrix models we developed in Rivalan et al (2010) and Barbraud et al (2011), and using the stable stage distribution given by these models, I estimated that the number of mature individuals was less than 50 until 1998. Since then it has always been higher.

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