Real-time information showing the locations of the threatened frigatebird is now available online thanks to a new Darwin Initiative funded study led by the University of Exeter and Ascension Island Government Conservation Department.
Researchers fitted satellite transmitters to several wild frigatebirds on Ascension Island and the live map of locations is now freely available to view online at http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking/?project_id=809. The study is part of a larger project to compile a Biodiversity Action Plan for Ascension Island. It will highlight areas used by frigatebirds, a relative of the pelican, and show where they may need protection.
The study, which uses tiny satellite transmitters - weighing less than a packet of crisps - mounted to the feathers with tape, is being carried out in collaboration with the RSPB and the University of Lund, Sweden. The data have already shown that the birds fly several hundred kilometres from Ascension Island in search of food. One of the birds has recently returned from a foraging trip of over 3800km which it covered in just 12 days.
Dr Annette Broderick from the University of Exeter said: "Virtually nothing is known about the way that Ascension Island frigatebirds use their habitat when out at sea. These data are already showing where they go, how far they travel and for how long they stay away from the island. It is a crucial component to an action plan that will be put in place to protect the unique flora and fauna of Ascension Island."
The frigatebird (Fregata aquila) is endemic to Ascension Island, a UK Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic ocean. The species is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List* as it only breeds on one small island where invasion by feral cats is a concern. Frigatebirds are primarily fish eaters and commercial fishing in the area could present an additional threat.
Dr Nicola Weber from Ascension Island Government Conservation Department said: "The Ascension Island frigatebird is one of Ascension's most iconic species and a priority for local and international conservation actions. This project has created a great deal of excitement on the Island and builds on the symbolic return of the frigatebirds to the mainland earlier this year. Children from Two Boats School have named the birds, Josephine, Napoleon and Nellie and have been following their tracks closely on the internet in near real-time."
Clare Stringer Head of UK Overseas Territories Unit at the RSPB said: "A single egg is laid in the breeding season but it takes so long to raise a chick that frigatebirds cannot breed every year. With such limited nest sites, and so few chicks, it is crucial that nesting sites and foraging areas are protected. It is estimated that 90% of the UK's biodiversity is found within its Overseas Territories. The UK has a responsibility to carry out effective conservation in the Overseas Territories to protect biodiversity in these regions."
Frigatebirds are large with iridescent black feathers and long wings. Males have dramatic inflatable red-coloured throat pouches called gular pouches which they inflate to attract females during the mating season.
Notes to editors
*The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species™ provides taxonomic, conservation status and distribution information on plants and animals that have been globally evaluated using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria.
High resolution frigatebird images:
Please credit Derren Fox, Ascension Island Government Conservation Department.
For further information and more high res images contact:
University of Exeter Press Office
About the University of Exeter
The Sunday Times University of the Year 2012-13, the University of Exeter is a Russell Group university and in the top one percent of institutions globally. It combines world-class research with very high levels of student satisfaction. Exeter has over 18,000 students and is ranked 7th in The Sunday Times University Guide, 10th in the UK in The Times Good University Guide 2012 and 10th in the Guardian University Guide. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) 90% of the University's research was rated as being at internationally recognised levels and 16 of its 31 subjects are ranked in the top 10, with 27 subjects ranked in the top 20.
The University has over 18,000 students at three campuses. The Streatham and St Luke's campuses are in Exeter and the Cornwall Campus (known locally as the Tremough Campus) near Penryn. In an arrangement that is unique in the UK, the Cornwall Campus is owned and jointly managed as the Tremough Campus with Falmouth University. At the campus, University of Exeter students can study the following programmes within the College of Life and Environmental Sciences: Animal Behaviour, Conservation Biology and Ecology, Environmental Sciences, Evolutionary Biology, Geography and Zoology. Other courses at the campus include English, Geology, History, Mathematics and the Environment, Mining and Minerals Engineering, Politics and International Studies and Renewable Energy.
The University has invested strategically to deliver more than £350 million worth of new facilities across its campuses for 2012, including landmark new student services centres - the Forum in Exeter and The Exchange in Cornwall - and world-class new facilities for Biosciences, the Business School and the Environment and Sustainability Institute. http://www.exeter.ac.uk/cornwall
About the Darwin Initiative
The Darwin Initiative assists countries that are rich in biodiversity but poor in financial resources to meet their objectives under one or more of the three major biodiversity conventions: the convention of Biological Diversity (CBD); the convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES); and the Convention on the collaborative projects which draw on UK biodiversity expertise.
The Darwin Initiative was announced by the UK Government at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.
The Darwin Advisory Committee (Currently chaired by Professor David MacDonald) consisting of experts from government, academia, science, and the private sector, advises ministers on development of the Initiative and makes recommendations on applications for funding.
Darwin projects are diverse. Typically, they may address issues in the following areas:
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