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Compatible seabird couples are more successful parents

When seabird couples have similar personalities, they tend to be better parents, according to a recent study from the University of Liverpool. 

The researchers also found that personality compatibility is a significant factor in the longevity of the couples’ relationship.

Focus of the study

The team investigated the breeding habits of black-legged kittiwake couples. 

The study revealed that seabird pairs with matching personalities are less likely to lose their chicks – an event which might prompt these generally monogamous birds to contemplate starting anew with a different partner.

The research was focused on a wild kittiwake population in Svalbard, located within the Arctic Circle. 

The goal was to analyze how personality compatibility impacted both their parenting prowess and the stability of their pair bond.

How the study was conducted 

The researchers conducted a unique personality assessment. Birds were presented with a blue plastic penguin toy to gauge their level of boldness. 

Upon analyzing their reactions, the team compared personalities among paired birds and subsequently linked these findings to their success rates in parenting and the likelihood of them parting ways.

Study significance 

A greater disparity in personalities was associated with a greater likelihood of chick loss. This, in turn, increased the chances of the couples splitting up. 

This observation is particularly significant given the breeding environment of the kittiwakes. They breed under strenuous conditions where single-parenting is hardly feasible. 

Both parents are integral for tasks like foraging and nest safeguarding.

Similar personalities 

“Our findings suggest that having similar personalities within pairs makes it easier for parents to predict and respond to each other’s behavior,” explained study lead author Fionnuala McCully.

“Seabird parents spend long periods of time apart when they are finding food at sea, and so they often need to make decisions without having their partner there for reference.”

“If you and your partner have similar personalities, you might also make similar decisions. What would my partner do in this situation? Easy, the same thing that I would do! And when your partner is more predictable, it is easier for you to make informed choices which benefit you both.”

“After all, human relationships thrive on compatibility and our lives are easier when we can predict how our partner might react in challenging circumstances. This research suggests that animal relationships may need exactly the same thing.”

Long-term relationships

Interestingly, kittiwakes often live into their 30s and even longer. These birds usually remain with the same mate for most of their lives. 

Swapping partners demands considerable effort and energy. The choice to “divorce” is rarely made unless prompted by significant reasons, such as the tragic loss of a chick.

Study implications 

This research comes at a time when kittiwakes, the world’s most prevalent gull species, are witnessing a drastic plunge in their numbers. 

Factors like climate change and human activities – most notably overfishing – jeopardize their young’s survival. 

Unless there’s a decisive shift in human behavior, even the most compatible kittiwake couples may find themselves unable to tackle the challenges of the future.

The research is published in the journal Ethology.

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