Caterpillars benefit from thermal ecosystem engineering by wandering albatrosses on sub-Antarctic Marion Island

20 April 2007

Wandering albatrosses (Diomedea exulans) nest on Southern Ocean islands, building elevated nests upon which they incubate eggs and raise chicks, and which the chicks occupy through winter. The nests support high invertebrate biomass, including larvae of the flightless moth Pringleophaga marioni. Here we argue that high biomass of P marioni in the nests is not associated with nutrient loading as previously suspected, but that higher temperatures in the nests increase growth and feeding rate, and decrease deleterious repeated cold exposure, providing fitness advantages for P marioni. Thus, wandering albatrosses may be serving as thermal engineers, modifying temperature and therefore enabling better resource use by P marioni.