CEES Extra seminar: Lectures by Richard Phillips and Aurélie Goutte

Two guest lectures on global seabird conservation, and population-level responses to pollutants in polar seabirds

Lecture 1: Global seabird conservation: progress in understanding and addressing threats at colonies and at sea

Richard Phillips, Seabird Ecologist at the British Antarctic survey. (Homepage at bas.ac.uk)

Richard Phillips' research concentrates on the population, physiological and evolutionary ecology of seabirds, particularly albatrosses and petrels. Much of his research is collaborative, involving researchers world-wide, and focuses on topics that include conservation, fisheries interactions, impacts of introduced predators, seabird habitat preferences, at-sea activity patterns, foraging ecology, food web structure, population dynamics, stable isotopes, pollutants, population genetic structure, hormones and behaviour, comparative breeding biology and population trends.


Seabirds are amongst the most globally-threatened of all birds. Albatrosses and large petrels have extensive at-sea distributions, and face major threats from incidental mortality (bycatch) in fisheries in national and international waters. Smaller petrels are usually safe at sea, but populations on many islands have declined massively or been extirpated by invasive species, particularly cat, rats and mice. Climate change affects many seabirds, but there are winners as well as losers. Although pollution (including from plastics) currently has a huge media profile, impacts on seabirds at the population level are much less clear. This talk will describe the contribution of research on seabird demography, distribution and behaviour carried out at South Georgia and elsewhere to diagnose the drivers of population change. By improving our understanding of seabird life-history, biology, ecology and threats, we can identify patterns, trends and gaps to help prioritise research and management efforts. This can help secure the future of these charismatic species.

Lecture 2: Population-level responses to mercury and legacy persistent organic pollutants in polar seabirds

Aurélie Goutte, Associate professor in wildlife ecotoxicology and ecophysiology at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE) and at the Pierre and Marie Curie University (UPMC), in Paris. (Homepage at aureliegoutte.webs.com)

Aurélie Goutte's research interests focus on the physiological, ecological and demographic responses of wild animals to anthropogenic pressures, particularly chemical pollution.


Toxic chemicals constitute a major threat for wildlife. Predicting consequences of chronic exposure to multiple pollutants is a challenging task in ecology and ecotoxicology. Long-lived top predators are particularly at risk, because of the bioaccumulation and the biomagnification of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and mercury (Hg). Long-term monitoring surveys on polar seabirds and multi-state mark recapture models were used to test the effects of pollutant burden on demographic traits. In the Black-legged kittiwake Rissa tridactyla, in Svalbard, survival rate was negatively linked to the levels of organochlorine pesticides (chlordane mixture and HCB). In addition, long-term breeding probabilities decreased with increasing POPs. In Antarctic and sub-Antarctic species, survival rate was not compromised by pollutant burden, probably due to lower exposure. In the Wandering albatross Diomedea exulans, Hg and POPs levels were negatively associated to long-term breeding, hatching and fledging probabilities.

In the South polar skuas Catharacta maccormicki from Adélie Land, long-term breeding success significantly decreased with increasing blood levels of Hg and mirex, an organochlorine insecticide. Proximate mechanisms were investigated to explain these effects and the strong differences among species. Matrix population models were then built to project the rate of population decline according to increasing pollutant burden.

Published Sep. 5, 2019 2:02 PM - Last modified Mar. 8, 2021 10:26 AM