Skip to main content Accesibility Help

Further support for thermal ecosystem engineering by wandering albatross

  • Tanya M. Haupt (a1) (a2), Brent J. Sinclair (a3), Justine D. Shaw (a4) (a5) and Steven L. Chown (a6)

On sub-Antarctic Marion Island, wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) nests support high abundances of tineid moth, Pringleophaga marioni, caterpillars. Previous work proposed that the birds serve as thermal ecosystem engineers by elevating nest temperatures relative to ambient, thereby promoting growth and survival of the caterpillars. However, only 17 days of temperature data were presented previously, despite year-long nest occupation by birds. Previous sampling was also restricted to old and recently failed nests, though nests from which chicks have recently fledged are key to understanding how the engineering effect is realized. Here we build on previous work by providing nest temperature data for a full year and by sampling all three nest types. For the full duration of nest occupancy, temperatures within occupied nests are significantly higher, consistently by c. 7°C, than those in surrounding soils and abandoned nests, declining noticeably when chicks fledge. Caterpillar abundance is significantly higher in new nests compared to nests from which chicks have fledged, which in turn have higher caterpillar abundances than old nests. Combined with recent information on the life history of P. marioni, our data suggest that caterpillars are incidentally added to the nests during nest construction, and subsequently benefit from an engineering effect.

Corresponding author
*corresponding author:
Hide All
Bancroft, W.J., Garkaklis, M.J. & Roberts, J.D. 2005. Burrow building in seabird colonies: a soil-forming process in island ecosystems. Pedobiologia, 49, 149165.
Barendse, J. & Chown, S.L. 2001. Abundance and seasonality of mid-altitude fellfield arthropods from Marion Island. Polar Biology, 24, 7382.
Burger, A.E. 1978. Terrestrial invertebrates: a food resource for birds at Marion Island. South African Journal of Antarctic Research, 8, 8799.
Chown, S.L. & Froneman, P.W. 2008. The Prince Edward Islands. Land-sea interactions in a changing ecosystem. Stellenbosch: Sun Press, 450 pp.
Chown, S.L., McGeoch, M.A. & Marshall, D.J. 2002. Diversity and conservation of invertebrates on the sub-Antarctic Prince Edward Islands. African Entomology, 10, 6782.
Cloern, J.E., Foster, S.Q. & Kleckner, A.E. 2014. Phytoplankton primary production in the world’s estuarine-coastal ecosystems. Biogeosciences, 11, 24772501.
Colinet, H., Sinclair, B.J., Vernon, P. & Renault, D. 2015. Insects in fluctuating thermal environments. Annual Review of Entomology, 60, 123140.
Crafford, J.E. & Scholtz, C.H. 1986. Impact of Embryonopsis halticella Eaton larvae (Lepidoptera: Yponomeutidae) feeding in Marion Island tussock grassland. Polar Biology, 6, 191196.
Crafford, J.E. & Scholtz, C.H. 1987. Quantitative differences between the insect faunas of sub-Antarctic Marion and Prince Edward Islands: a result of human intervention? Biological Conservation, 40, 255262.
Crafford, J.E., Scholtz, C.H. & Chown, S.L. 1986. The insects of sub-Antarctic Marion and Prince Edward Islands with a bibliography of entomology of the Kerguelen Biogeographical Province. South African Journal of Antarctic Research, 16, 4284.
Crawford, R.J.M. & Cooper, J. 2003. Conserving surface-nesting seabirds at the Prince Edward Islands: the roles of research, monitoring and legislation. African Journal of Marine Science, 25, 415426.
Crawley, M.J. 2012. The R book, 2nd ed. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 1076 pp.
Erskine, P.D., Bergstrom, D.M., Schmidt, S., Stewart, G.R., Tweedie, C.E. & Shaw, J.D. 1998. Subantarctic Macquarie Island: a model ecosystem for studying animal-derived nitrogen sources using 15N natural abundance. Oecologia, 117, 187193.
Gabriel, A.G.A., Chown, S.L., Barendse, J., Marshall, D.J., Mercer, R.D., Pugh, P.J.A. & Smith, V.R. 2001. Biological invasions of Southern Ocean islands: the Collembola of Marion Island as a test of generalities. Ecography, 24, 421430.
Gaston, K.J., Blackburn, T.M. & Gregory, R.D. 1999. Does variation in census area confound density comparisons? Journal of Applied Ecology, 36, 191204.
Gremmen, N.J.M. 1982. The vegetation of the subantarctic islands Marion and Prince Edward. The Hague: W. Junk, 164 pp.
Hänel, C. 1999. The distribution and abundance of macro-invertebrates in the major vegetation communities of Marion Island and the impact of alien species. MSc thesis, University of Pretoria, South Africa, 121 pp. [Unpublished].
Haupt, T.M., Crafford, J.E. & Chown, S.L. 2014a. Solving the puzzle of Pringleophaga – threatened, keystone detritivores in the sub-Antarctic. Insect Conservation and Diversity, 7, 308313.
Haupt, T.M., Sinclair, B.J. & Chown, S.L. 2014b. Chemosensory and thermal cue responses in the sub-Antarctic moth Pringleophaga marioni: do caterpillars choose wandering albatross nest proxies? Polar Biology, 37, 555563.
Jackman, S. 2014. Package ‘pscl’. Available at:
Jones, M.G.W. & Ryan, P.G. 2010. Evidence of mouse attacks on albatross chicks on sub-Antarctic Marion Island. Antarctic Science, 22, 3942.
Joly, Y., Frenot, Y. & Vernon, P. 1987. Environmental modifications of a subantarctic peat-bog by the wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans): a preliminary study. Polar Biology, 8, 6172.
Klok, C.J. & Chown, S.L. 1997. Critical thermal limits, temperature tolerance and water balance of a sub-Antarctic caterpillar, Pringleophaga marioni (Lepidoptera: Tineidae). Journal of Insect Physiology, 43, 685694.
Moravcová, A., Beyens, L. & van de Vijver, B. 2010. Diatom communities in soils influenced by the wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans). Polar Biology, 33, 241255.
Polis, G.A., Anderson, W.B. & Holt, R.D. 1997. Toward an integration of landscape and food web ecology: the dynamics of spatially subsidized food webs. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 28, 289316.
Polis, G.A., Sànchez-Piñero, F., Stapp, P.T., Anderson, W.B. & Rose, M.D. 2004. Trophic flows from water to land: marine input affects food webs of islands and coastal ecosystems worldwide. In Polis, G.A., Power, M.E. & Huxe, G.R., eds. Food webs at the landscape level. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 200216.
R Development Core Team. 2013. R: a language and environment for statistical computing. Vienna: R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Available at:, accessed 3 April 2013.
Ryan, P.G. & Bester, M.N. 2008. Pelagic predators. In Chown, S.L. & Froneman, P.W., eds. The Prince Edward Islands. Land-sea interactions in a changing ecosystem. Stellenbosch: Sun Press, 121164.
Sànchez-Piñero, F. & Polis, G.A. 2000. Bottom-up dynamics of allochthonous input: direct and indirect effects of seabirds on islands. Ecology, 81, 31173132.
Sinclair, B.J. & Chown, S.L. 2005. Deleterious effects of repeated cold exposure in a freeze-tolerant sub-Antarctic caterpillar. Journal of Experimental Biology, 208, 869879.
Sinclair, B.J. & Chown, S.L. 2006. Caterpillars benefit from thermal ecosystem engineering by wandering albatrosses on sub-Antarctic Marion Island. Biology Letters, 2, 5154.
Smith, V.R. 1978. Animal-plant-soil nutrient relationships on Marion Island (sub-Antarctic). Oecologica, 32, 239253.
Smith, V.R. 2008. Terrestrial and freshwater primary production and nutrient cycling. In Chown, S.L. & Froneman, P.W., eds. The Prince Edward Islands. Land-sea interactions in a changing ecosystem. Stellenbosch: Sun Press, 181214.
Smith, V.R., Avenant, N.L. & Chown, S.L. 2002. The diet and impact of house mice on a sub-Antarctic island. Polar Biology, 25, 703715.
Vincke, S., van de Vijver, B., Ledeganck, P., Nijs, I. & Beyens, L. 2007. Testacean communities in perturbed soils: the influence of the wandering albatross. Polar Biology, 30, 395406.
Warham, J. 1990. The petrels, their ecology and breeding systems. London: Academic Press, 452 pp.
Wright, J.P. & Jones, C.G. 2006. The concept of organisms as ecosystem engineers ten years on: progress, limitations, and challenges. BioScience, 56, 203209.
Zuur, A.F., Ieno, E.N., Walker, N., Saveliev, A.A. & Smith, G.M. 2009. Mixed effects models and extensions in Ecology with R. New York, NY: Springer, 600 pp.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Antarctic Science
  • ISSN: 0954-1020
  • EISSN: 1365-2079
  • URL: /core/journals/antarctic-science
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Haupt supplementary material
Figure S1 and Table S1-S2

 PDF (165 KB)
165 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed