Biodiversity

Species Profile and Threats Database


For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
 
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Endangered as Papasula abbotti
Listed marine as Papasula abbotti
Recovery Plan Decision Recovery Plan required, this species had a recovery plan in force at the time the legislation provided for the Minister to decide whether or not to have a recovery plan (19/2/2007).
 
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans National Recovery Plan for the Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004) [Recovery Plan] as Papasula abbotti.
 
Other EPBC Act Plans Threat Abatement Plan for Reduction in Impacts of Tramp Ants on Biodiversity in Australia and its Territories (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006p) [Threat Abatement Plan].
 
Policy Statements and Guidelines Survey Guidelines for Australia's Threatened Birds. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.2 (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2010l) [Admin Guideline].
 
Information Sheets Final Report of the Christmas Island Expert Working Group to the Minister for the Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2010a) [Information Sheet].
 
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Declaration under s178, s181, and s183 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of threatened species, List of threatened ecological communities and List of threatening processes (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) [Legislative Instrument] as Sula abbotti.
 
List of Migratory Species (13/07/2000) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000b) [Legislative Instrument] as Sula abbotti.
 
Declaration under section 248 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of Marine Species (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000c) [Legislative Instrument] as Papasula abbotti.
 
Amendment to the list of threatened species under section 178 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (11/04/2007) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2007f) [Legislative Instrument] as Papasula abbotti.
 
List of Migratory Species - Amendment to the list of migratory species under section 209 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (26/11/2013) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2013af) [Legislative Instrument] as Sula abbotti.
 
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Endangered (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
NGO: Listed as Endangered (The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010)
Scientific name Papasula abbotti [59297]
Family Sulidae:Pelecaniformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Ridgeway,1893)
Infraspecies author  
Reference  
Other names Sula abbotti [25896]
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

Scientific name: Papasula abbotti

Common name: Abbott's Booby

Abbott's Booby is unique amongst the sulids and was recently placed in its own genus (Christidis & Boles 1994; Olson & Warheit 1988). It has some very ancient characters and may have diverged from other sulids prior to the divergence of gannets (Morus) and boobies (Sula). It is unique in its breeding biology and behaviour (Nelson 1971), and in its osteology (Olson & Warheit 1988).

Abbott's Booby measures about 80 cm from beak to tail; has off-white plumage; black panda-like eye patches; black wings, flank marks and tails; and black outer ends to its blue webbed feet. Males have pale grey bills, tipped black, while females have black-tipped pink bills (Pizzey & Knight 1999).

Currently, Abbott's Booby is only known to breed on Christmas Island (Stokes 1988) and to forage in the waters surrounding the island (Becking 1976). Within Christmas Island, most nests are found in the tall plateau forest on the central and western areas of the island, and in the upper terrace forest of the northern coast.

The species was once thought to be restricted to areas above 150 m, mostly on the sides of north-west facing slopes (Nelson 1978; Stokes 1988), but a survey in 1991 located them in some new areas (Yorkston & Green 1997). Some of these areas had been known but were not recorded in a 1981 survey (J. Tranter, EA, 2002, pers. comm.). This revised distribution would be due partly to movement of the birds (Reville et al. 1990a), but the survey also discovered previously unknown nesting areas (Yorkston & Green 1997).

Abbott's Booby was described from a specimen collected from Assumption Island (north-west of Madagascar) by the American naturalist W.L. Abbott in 1892. There has been some debate as to whether Abbott actually collected the specimen from Assumption Island or nearby Glorioso Island (Gibson-Hill 1950b; Nelson 1974, 1978; Stoddart 1981). Breeding populations in the western Indian Ocean have largely declined or gone extinct (Stoddart 1981; Vesey-Fitzgerald 1941).

There were no realistic estimates of numbers of Abbott's Boobies before 1967, but it is known that the global range had been severely reduced. In 1967, the breeding population on Christmas Island was estimated at 2 300 pairs (Nelson 1971). In 1979 and 1980, the breeding population was resurveyed and although numbers were not estimated, they found that the distribution of nests had not changed significantly from that of 1967, despite large areas of habitat clearance (Powell & Tranter 1981). The most recent population survey carried out in 1991 estimated the population at 2 500 pairs (Yorkston & Green 1997). Although this is greater than that estimated by Nelson, this survey covered much more of the island and discovered nests in areas not previously known.

Breeding populations of Abbott's Booby in the western Indian Ocean had disappeared by 1926 (Stoddart 1981; Vesey-Fitzgerald 1941). Its disappearance from these islands was attributed to forest clearing (Nelson 1978). It is unknown if there are any population trends affecting Australian populations of Abbott's Booby.

Abbott's Booby is a marine species. It spends much of its time at sea, but needs to come ashore to breed. It nests in tall rainforest trees in the western, central and northern portions of Christmas Island. Most nest trees are associated with uneven terrain created by gullies, hill-sides or cliffs. The location of Abbott's Booby nest sites is determined by the topography and nature of the canopy, resulting in a patchy distribution. Most nest trees are located in uneven canopy containing emergent trees, and sites are densest along crests of gullies and west facing slopes (Nelson & Powell 1986). The tree species most often used are Syzygium nervosum and Planchonella nitida. Abbott's Booby will also use Tristiropsis acutangula trees when they become emergent (Nelson & Powell 1986; Yorkston & Green 1997).

The nest of Abbott's Booby is placed on branches 10 to 40 m above the ground in tall rainforest trees (Marchant & Higgins 1990; Reville et al. 1990a). It prefers nest sites with a clear area below and immediately downwind to facilitate take-off and landing. South-east trade winds prevail between April and November, thus emergent trees which can be approached from the north-west are most often used as nest sites (Nelson & Powell 1986).

Abbott's Boobies are thought to be very long lived, and from breeding data it has been estimated that it would take between 24 and 31 years for parents to produce their replacements (Nelson & Powell 1986; Reville et al. 1990a). They probably first breed at eight years of age and the average life span could be around 40 years (Reville et al. 1990a).

Abbott's Booby lays a single egg clutch (Marchant & Higgins 1990). The mean period from hatching to fledging is 151 days (range 140 to 175 days, sample size 11), 30 to 60 days longer than in other Sulidae (gannets and boobies). Free-flying juveniles remain dependent on their parents for a further 230 days (range 162 to 260 days). Therefore, the total time from hatching to independence is on average, 363 days (range 314 to 418 days, sample size). The complete cycle can take between 486 and 504 days to complete (Nelson & Powell 1986). Most Abbott's Boobies can only breed once every two years because of the offspring's long period of dependence.

Breeding commences in March, when established pairs begin returning to nest sites and start collecting nest material (Nelson & Powell 1986). Laying may occur at any time between April and October, but most birds lay between mid May and mid July (Nelson & Powell 1986).

Abbott's Booby feeds on fish and squid (Marchant & Higgins 1990; Reville et al. 1990a). Christmas Island is close to a number of cold water upwellings that probably provide food that is seasonal in nature, and upon which a number of the seabirds may depend for raising their young. This may be one reason why Abbott's Boobies are found only on Christmas Island.

Abbott's Booby goes on very long fishing trips in a north-west direction (Nelson 1971, 1972) which is the direction of one of the major upwellings. It is thought that they may travel up to 400 km to feeding grounds when they are breeding (Becking 1976), but the location of fishing areas has not been confirmed.

When not breeding Abbott's Boobies may travel large distances. It has been recorded near the Chagos Archipelago, some 4000 km west of Christmas Island (Hirons et al. 1976). Sightings of adult and juvenile Abbott's Boobies in the Banda Sea (around 2000 km north-east of Christmas Island) has led some authors to speculate there exists another breeding population in that region (Cadée 1987; van Balen 1996b).

It is thought that Abbott's Booby may travel up to 400 km to feeding grounds when breeding (Becking 1976). When not breeding, the species may also travel large distances. Some adults leave Christmas Island for at least four or five months, returning in April, but it is uncertain where they go (Nelson & Powell 1986; Marchant & Higgins 1990). Away from Christmas Island, they have been recorded near the southern coast of Java (Becking 1976), near the Chagos Archipelago (around 4000 km west of Christmas Island) (Hirons et al. 1976), in the Banda Sea (around 2000 km north-east of Christmas Island) (Cadée 1987; van Balen 1996b), and at Broome, Western Australia (BARC 2002).

Detectability
Abbott's Booby is generally conspicuous, but it is only occasionally dectected from ships (Olsen 2002). Nelson (1971) listened for the loud calls of pairs as they re-united at the nest site and noted that some birds remain at the nest while their partner forages.

Recommended Methods
Abbott's Booby can be surveyed by observation of birds leaving the island in the morning and returning in the evening from onshore vantage points, preferably about mid-July. Searches or transect surveys can be used to detect birds, nests and excreta beneath roost sites. Free-flying juveniles regularly return to the nest site (Nelson 1971). Nesting sites are well documented; previously recorded nest sites have been relocated using computer-generated maps, and new nest sites located by walking transect lines. All nest sites in recent surveys have been mapped for future reference (Yorkston & Green 1997). Aerial surveys for birds and nests have potential, but helicopters are rarely available on the island (Olsen 2002).

Clearing of forest and wind turbulence
On Christmas Island, clearing of primary rainforest for phosphate mining has resulted in loss of a large percentage of the boobies' nesting habitat. In the mid 1980s, the Abbott's Booby Monitoring Program estimated that 33% of known Abbott's Booby habitat had been cleared (Reville et al. 1987). Tall emergent rainforest trees which are reasonably sheltered from the prevailing south east winds are required for nesting. Loss of nesting trees as a result of clearing for mining has resulted in a decline in the population.

Furthermore, forested areas up to 300 m downwind of cleared areas suffer much greater wind turbulence in the canopy than other forested areas, and this has resulted in decreased breeding success and increased adult and fledgling mortality within these areas (Reville et al. 1990a, 1990b). In addition, experienced breeders moved nest sites more often when downwind of clearings and since forest clearing, there has been a slow movement of nest sites away from cleared areas to areas that were previously little used. These newer areas are more remote from clearings, but breeding success in these newer areas was lower than that upwind of clearings (Reville et al. 1990b). Pairs move nest sites only if they have been repeatedly unsuccessful, or the nest site has been destroyed. When displaced they probably move only a short distance, since the pair use the nest site as a focus for re-mating (Nelson & Powell 1986). Therefore, it takes a pair many years to move away from an area of disturbance. The edge of the forest downwind of clearings also shows signs of dieback due to increased wind exposure. In 1986 to 1987, 42.6% of the known population of breeding pairs were nesting within 305 m of clearings (Reville et al. 1990b). The surveys of 1991 found that 36% of the population was in areas affected by clearings (Yorkston & Green 1997).

Sea Surface Temperature Conditions
Abbott's Booby probably relies on a seasonal increase in fish numbers associated with cold water upwellings to raise their young. Sea-surface temperature data obtained from satellites was strongly correlated with average annual breeding success of the Abbott's Booby, because seasons with long periods of low surface temperature had higher breeding success (Reville et al. 1990a). If sea-surface temperatures increase in the future as a result of global warming, this could result in lower breeding success for the Abbott's Booby regardless of nest location (DEH 2004).

Storms and Cyclones
A severe storm in March 1988 damaged significant areas of the island's rainforest. It felled approximately one third of the nest sites monitored by the Abbott's Booby Monitoring Program and also killed one third of the monitored fledglings (Reville et al. 1990a). It is uncertain what effect the storm had on adult mortality; in 1988 and 1989, numbers of adults attempting to nest were significantly lower than previous years (Reville et al. 1990a; Yorkston 1992), but there was no evidence of a decline in the adult population from a survey in 1991 (Yorkston 1992; Yorkston & Green 1997). It is evident however, that severe storms can have a marked effect on the reproductive rate of the Abbott's Booby in ensuing years.

Deterioration of feeding areas
Currently there is very little information on the areas in which Abbott's Booby feeds. It is unknown whether feeding areas are safe or whether over-fishing is a potential problem. Abbott's Boobies have been sighted off the coast of Java (Becking 1976) and if they regularly feed close to the Java coast then there could be the potential for competition with Indonesian fishermen (DEH 2004).

Yellow crazy ant
The latest threat to the species is from the introduced Yellow Crazy Ant Anoplolepis gracilipes, which, after a slow start, is spreading rapidly. The ants now occupy 15 to 18% of the island, but are mainly restricted to Shore Terrace forests. These ants are not only likely to prey directly on nestlings, but may alter the whole ecology of the island. The ants occupy the entire forest from below ground level to the canopy (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

Wind turbulence in nesting trees downwind of clearings is a major problem for the Abbott's Booby. To alleviate this problem, cleared areas within 300 m of nests need to be rehabilitated as a matter of priority to reduce wind turbulence downwind (DEH 2004). A rainforest rehabilitation program to revegetate old mine workings has been underway since 1989 (Environment Australia 2002i).

The Action Plan for Australian Birds, the National Recovery Plan for the Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti, and the Threat Abatement Plan for Reduction in Impacts of Tramp Ants on Biodiversity in Australia and its Territories provide guides to threat abatement and management strategies for the Abbott's Booby (DEH 2004; DEH 2006p; Garnett & Crowley 2000).

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Biological Resource Use:Fishing and Harvesting Aquatic Resources:Incidental capture and drowning by longline fishing National Recovery Plan for the Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004) [Recovery Plan].
Biological Resource Use:Fishing and Harvesting Aquatic Resources:Overfishing, competition with fishing operations and overfishing of prey fishing National Recovery Plan for the Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004) [Recovery Plan].
Abbott's Booby Recovery Plan (Papasula abbotti) - 1998-2002 (Dunn, A. & Hill, F.A.R,, 1998) [Recovery Plan].
Climate Change and Severe Weather:Climate Change and Severe Weather:Climate change altering atmosphere/hydrosphere temperatures, rainfall patterns and/or frequency of severe weather events Abbott's Booby Recovery Plan (Papasula abbotti) - 1998-2002 (Dunn, A. & Hill, F.A.R,, 1998) [Recovery Plan].
Climate Change and Severe Weather:Storms and Flooding:Storm damage National Recovery Plan for the Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004) [Recovery Plan].
Climate Change and Severe Weather:Temperature Extremes:Elevated water temperatures National Recovery Plan for the Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004) [Recovery Plan].
Abbott's Booby Recovery Plan (Papasula abbotti) - 1998-2002 (Dunn, A. & Hill, F.A.R,, 1998) [Recovery Plan].
Ecosystem/Community Stresses:Ecosystem Degradation:Wind damage National Recovery Plan for the Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004) [Recovery Plan].
Ecosystem/Community Stresses:Indirect Ecosystem Effects:Restricted geographical distribution (area of occupancy and extent of occurrence) National Recovery Plan for the Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004) [Recovery Plan].
Energy Production and Mining:Mining and Quarrying:Habitat destruction, disturbance and/or modification due to mining activities National Recovery Plan for the Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004) [Recovery Plan].
Energy Production and Mining:Mining and Quarrying:Habitat modification through open cut mining/quarrying activities Abbott's Booby Recovery Plan (Papasula abbotti) - 1998-2002 (Dunn, A. & Hill, F.A.R,, 1998) [Recovery Plan].
The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000 (Garnett, S.T. & G.M. Crowley, 2000) [Cwlth Action Plan].
Commonwealth Listing Advice on Land clearance (Threatened Species Scientific Committee, 2001w) [Listing Advice].
Human Intrusions and Disturbance:Human Intrusions and Disturbance:inappropriate conservation measures National Recovery Plan for the Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004) [Recovery Plan].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or habitat degradation by weeds National Recovery Plan for the Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004) [Recovery Plan].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Anoplolepis gracilipes (Yellow Crazy Ant, Gramang Ant, Long-legged Ant, Maldive Ant) National Recovery Plan for the Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004) [Recovery Plan].
Pollution:Excess Energy:noise National Recovery Plan for the Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004) [Recovery Plan].
Residential and Commercial Development:Commercial and Industrial Areas:Recreational, commercial and industrial development National Recovery Plan for the Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004) [Recovery Plan].
Residential and Commercial Development:Residential and Commercial Development:Habitat modification (clearance and degradation) due to urban development National Recovery Plan for the Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004) [Recovery Plan].
Species Stresses:Indirect Species Effects:Low numbers of individuals Abbott's Booby Recovery Plan (Papasula abbotti) - 1998-2002 (Dunn, A. & Hill, F.A.R,, 1998) [Recovery Plan].

BARC (Birds Australia Rarities Committee) (2002). Index of Case Summaries.

Becking, J.H. (1976). Feeding range of Abbott's Booby at the coast of Java. Ibis. 118:589--590.

Cadée, C.G. (1987). Seabirds in the Banda Sea in February/March 1985. Marine Research in Indonesia. 27:19--34.

Christidis, L. & W.E. Boles (1994). The Taxonomy and Species of Birds of Australia and its Territories. Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union Monograph 2. Melbourne, Victoria: Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union.

Department of the Environment and Heritage (2004). National Recovery Plan for the Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti. [Online]. Department of the Environment and Heritage, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/recovery/abbotts-booby/index.html.

Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH) (2006p). Threat Abatement Plan for Reduction in Impacts of Tramp Ants on Biodiversity in Australia and its Territories. [Online]. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/tap/trampants.html.

Environment Australia (2002i). Christmas Island National Park Management Plan. Canberra, ACT: Environment Australia.

Garnett, S.T. & G.M. Crowley (2000). The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Environment Australia and Birds Australia. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/action/birds2000/index.html.

Gibson-Hill, C.A. (1950b). Notes on Abbott's Booby. Bulletin of the Raffles Museum. 23:65-76.

Hirons, M.J., D.J. Bellamy & C. Sheppard (1976). Birds of the Chagos Bank. Nature. 260:387.

Marchant, S. & P.J. Higgins, eds. (1990). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Volume One - Ratites to Ducks. Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

Nelson, J.B. (1971). The biology of Abbott's Booby. Ibis. 113:429--467.

Nelson, J.B. (1972). The biology of seabirds of the Indian Ocean, Christmas Island. Journal of the Marine Biology Association of India. 14:643--662.

Nelson, J.B. (1974). The distribution of Abbott's Booby. Ibis. 116:368--369.

Nelson, J.B. (1978). The Sulidae: Gannets and Boobies. Oxford University Press, London.

Nelson, J.B. & D. Powell (1986). The breeding ecology of Abbott's Booby. Emu. 86:33--46.

Olson, S.L. & K.I. Warheit (1988). A new genus for Sula abbotti. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists Club. 108:9--12.

Pizzey, G. & F. Knight (1999). The Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Pymble, Sydney: Angus and Robertson.

Powell, D. & J. Tranter (1981). The distribution of Abbott's Booby: Christmas Island 1979/80. Aust. National Parks & Wildlife Service, Christmas Island.

Reville, B., J. Tranter & H. Yorkston (1987). Monitoring the endangered Abbott's Booby on Christmas Island 1983--1986. ANPWS Occasional Paper. 11:1--18.

Reville, B., J. Tranter & H. Yorkston (1990b). Impact of forest clearing on the endangered seabird Sula abbotti. Biological Conservation. 51:23-38.

Reville, B.J., J.D. Tranter & H.D. Yorkston (1990a). Conservation of the Endangered Seabird Abbott's Booby on Christmas Island. ANPWS Occasional Paper. 20:1-22.

Stoddart, D.R. (1981). Abbott's Booby on Assumption. Atoll Research Bulletin. 255:27--32.

Stokes, T. (1988). A review of the birds of Christmas Island, Indian Ocean. Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service Occasional Paper.

Tranter, J. (2002). Personal Communication.

van Balen, S. (1996b). Note on observations of Abbotts Booby in the Banda Sea. Kukila. 8:145-46.

Vesey-Fitzgerald, D. (1941). Ornithology of the Seychelles Islands. Ibis. (14) 5:518--531.

Yorkston, H.D. (1992). A Review of the Abbott's Booby (Sula abbotti) Monitoring Program on Christmas Island, Indian Ocean (1989--1992). Aust. National Parks & Wildlife Service, Christmas Island.

Yorkston, H.D. & P.T. Green (1997). The breeding distribution and status of Abbott's Booby (Sulidae: Papasula abbotti) on Christmas Island, Indian Ocean. Biological Conservation. 79:293--301.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Papasula abbotti in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Sat, 23 Aug 2014 23:34:24 +1000.