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Males Keep The Home

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Males Keep The Home

13 November 2008 - Male gannets are responsible for collecting seaweed to insulate the nest, research suggests.

Researchers from The University of Auckland and the University of Bath, UK, have studied the habits of the Australasian gannet, Morus serrator, and identified that the male bird supplies seaweed to line the nest, providing an insulating layer.

The results of the study are published in the latest issue of the journal Behaviour.

Gannet eggs should ideally be kept at a temperature around 35C to ensure normal chick development. Where seaweed was included in the structure, nests were significantly warmer in the morning, when low temperatures and heat loss are most detrimental to the roosting parent. This increase in insulation is particularly important in areas where the Australasian gannet nests in New Zealand, where temperatures can drop to 9C at night during the August to October laying period.

The research studied gannets during October 2007 at the Plateau Colony, a subcolony of the famous Cape Kidnappers gannetry in Hawkes Bay. The study observed over 100 gannets in their natural environment, and temperatures of the nest were measured using thermal imagery from up to 5 metres away, minimising disruption of the birds.

"The sex specific behaviour of seabirds is well known, but this is the first study to look at the nest building of Australasian gannets," says PhD student Steffi Ismar of the School of Biological Sciences, the corresponding author on the study. "The gannet only lays one or sometimes two eggs, and their winter laying period means it is vital for the nest to provide some insulation, both to maintain ideal temperatures for successful chick development and to protect the incubating parent from the cold. It is interesting to see the male taking the lead in this home-making behaviour."

The first-named author on the study, Jeni Matthews, was a visiting student to The University of Auckland from the University of Bath, UK. The project was carried out in connection with Steffi Ismar's PhD research, supervised by Dr Mark Hauber and funded in part by an international doctoral research scholarship from Education New Zealand.

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