The Iles Crozet (Crozet Islands) are an archipelago in the south Indian Ocean, about two-thirds of the way from Madagascar to Antarctica, and part of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. They are known for their wildlife, including fur seals, leopard seals, and southern elephant seals, as well as numerous bird species.
Source: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas
A large archipelago formed from the Crozet Plateau, Iles Crozet is divided into two main groups, bisected by the 2km deep Indivat basin:
L'Occidental (the West), which includes:
Île aux Cochons is the third largest island, at 70km2. This island is a 600m high volcanic cone, and its open crater consists of alternations of pyroclastic rocks and lava flows.
Ilots des Apotres is 2km2 in area, and reaches heights of 289m,
Ile des Pingouins is 3km2 in area, and reaches heights of 420m
the reefs Brisants de l'Heroine
L'Oriental (the east), which includes:
Île de l’Est is the second largest island in this archipelago, with an area of 120km2 . The sheer cliffs on this island reach 1100m high. This deeply dissected shield volcano is made up of two basalt units, one basal and one upper, the two separated by a pyroclastic horizon.
Île de la Possession is the largest island, with an area of 130km2. It reaches a height of 934m.
Discovered and claimed by France in 1772, the islands were used for seal hunting and as a base for whaling.
The two eastern islands are the oldest among the Crozet islands, at approximately 8 million years old. Of the western islands, Île aux Cochons is 0.4 million years old, Îles des Pingouins is 1.1 million years old and Îles des Apotres is 5.5 million years old.
The archipelago experiences a cold, oceanic climate, with an annual mean temperature of 5ºC, monthly mean temperature ranges between 2.9ºC and 7.9ºC in winter and summer respectively, an annual rainfall of 2400mm per year, and strong winds.
Originally administered as a dependency of Madagascar, they became part of the TAAF in 1955.
The islands are uninhabited except for 18 to 30 people staffing the Alfred Faure research station on Ile del la Possession.
Geographic Coodinates: 46 25 S, 51 00 E
Area: 352 sq km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: windy, cold, wet, and cloudy
Terrain: a large archipelago formed from the Crozet Plateau is divided into two groups of islands.The highest point is Pic Marion-Dufresne (1,090 m).
Natural Resources: fish, crayfish
Land Use: 100% tossock grass, heath, and fern
- introduction of foreign species on Iles Crozet has caused severe damage to the original ecosystem
- overfishing of Patagonian toothfish around Iles Crozet
The Iles Crozet (Crozet Islands) are included within the Southern Indian Ocean Islands tundra ecoregion defined by the World Wildlife Fund which encompasses five island groups in the southern Indian Ocean: Prince Edward, Crozet, Kerguelen, Heard, and McDonald Islands.
Endemic vascular plants include Poa cookii and Pringlea ascorbutica (both found on all the islands in the ecoregion). P. ascorbutica is the famous Kerguelen cabbage that sailors used to eat to prevent scurvy in days past.
Other endemic vascular plants include Polystichum marionense (only found on the Crozet and Prince Edward Islands), Ranunculus moseleyi (only found on the Prince Edward, Crozet and Kerguelen Islands), Poa kerguelensis (only found on Heard and the Crozet Islands) and Colobanthus kerguelensis (possibly on all the islands).
Other non-endemic, but notable, plant species include Crassula moshata, Aceana magellanica, the cushion-shaped Azorella selago, the feathery Cotula plumosa, and the grass Agrostis magellanica. Among the non-flowering plants, the fern Blechnum penna-marina should be noted.
A number of lichen species are endemic to the ecoregion, but many lichens in this ecoregion are bipolar. Many liverworts are endemic to the ecoregion. Plant distribution patterns indicate a strong relationship between the ecoregion islands, a relationship that has been found in some invertebrate groups as well.
The first thing a casual observer notices about this ecoregion is the overlap of normally sub-Antarctic and normally Antarctic species, from plankton, to fish, to higher predators. One therefore finds on these islands species that may be best suited to one or other of the two environmental regimes, but not necessarily their combination. For instance, the breeding success of the gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua) is lowest at its northernmost breeding localities (the Prince Edward and Crozet Islands). This may be because at these relatively northern latitudes the species has to hunt less suitable sub-Antarctic marine prey.
Three of the most obvious sympatric congeneric species in the ecoregion are the two sooty albatrosses (Phoebetria spp.), the two giant petrels (Macronectes spp.) and the two fur seals (Arctocephalus spp.). The sooty albatross (Phoebetria fusca) and the light-mantled sooty albatross (P. palpebrata) breed sympatrically only within this ecoregion i.e., on Marion, the Crozet and the Kerguelen Islands. P. palpebrata, the longest-lived of all birds, normally has a more southerly, Antarctic range than does P. fusca. P. palpebrata from Marion Island, for instance, must therefore fly further south than its congeneric to forage. This places more stress on this species at that locale. In contrast to Marion Island, where its population is much larger than that of P. palpebrata, P. fusca is outnumbered by its congeneric on the Kerguelen Islands. The Kerguelen Islands are, in turn, the most southerly breeding point of the more northern species. Interspecific competition for food and breeding sites between these two congenerics is low or non-existent where they breed sympatrically, and there are no recorded attempts at interbreeding.
However, at times sympatric congenerics do attempt to interbreed. The Northern Giant petrel Macronectes halli and Southern Giant petrel M. giganteus breed sympatrically within the ecoregion, although their sympatric breeding area spreads over a wider range outside of it. Burger and Johnstone reported failed breeding attempts between these two species on Marion and Macquarie Islands respectively (the latter island outside the ecoregion). Although Johnstone et al. remarked that, on islands where sympatric breeding occurs, there is genetic isolation between the two species, they point out that on Gough Island (also outside the ecoregion), Macronectus spp. individuals show a combination of both species’ characteristics. This suggests the ability to interbreed at some sites, although the reasons behind this may be only locally relevant.
The only two eared seals (otarids) in the region, the antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella) and the subantarctic fur seal (A. tropicalis), breed sympatrically only on the Prince Edward, Crozet and Heard Islands within the ecoregion, and on Macquarie Island outside of it. Only a small percentage of the worldwide population of A. gazella is found in this ecoregion, the Antarctic fur seal being otherwise exclusively confined to south of the Antarctic Convergence. Outside the ecoregion, A. tropicalis breeds at Amsterdam, Saint Paul, Gough and Tristan da Cunha Islands, all to the north. Interbreeding between A. gazella, which normally breeds south of the convergence, and A. tropicalis, which normally breeds north of it, has been reported from islands where they breed sympatrically. The possibility that the Antarctic fur seal may be limited by its Antarctic adaptations on the more temperate climate of Marion Island has been mooted. Bester and van Jaarsveld have also reported that the sub-Antarctic fur seal is smaller on Marion Island than it is at more northern latitudes. There are no indigenous land mammals throughout the terrestrial sub-Antarctic.
A number of birds that breed in the ecoregion have been classified as "Vulnerable". These are:
- Eaton’s pintail (Anas eatoni) (an endemic),
- wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans),
- sooty albatross (Phoebetria fusca),
- Indian yellow-nosed albatross (Thalassarche carteri),
- gray-headed albatross (Thalassarche chrysostoma),
- rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome),
- macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus),
- southern giant petrel (Macronectus giganteus) and
- white-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis).
Macronectus giganteus and Eudyptes chrysocome may possibly qualify for "Endangered" status, while Phoebetria fusca may even qualify as "Critically Endangered".
Lower risk, but "near threatened" bird species found in the ecoregion are Kerguelen tern (Sterna virgata) (an endemic), northern giant petrel (Macronectus halli), the gray petrel (Procellaria cinerea) (one of the winter breeding petrels), gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua), light-mantled albatross (Phoebetria palpebrata) and black-browed albatross (Thassalarche melanophrys). All albatrosses breeding in this ecoregion have been accorded "vulnerable" or "near threatened" status. Albatrosses have "the highest proportion of threatened species in any bird family that comprises more than a single species".
Other than those species already mentioned above, the following birds also breed in the ecoregion:
- sub-Antarctic skua (Catharacta skua);
- kelp gull (Larus dominicanus);
- fulmar prion (Pachyptila crassirostris),
- Antarctic prion (Pachyptila desolata),
- thin-billed prion (Pachyptila belcheri),
- fairy prion (Pachyptila turtur),
- Antarctic tern (Sterna vittata);
- cape petrel (Daption capense),
- black-bellied storm petrel (Fregetta tropica),
- gray-backed storm petrel (Garrodia nereis),
- blue petrel (Halobaena caerulea),
- Wilson’s storm petrel (Oceanites oceanicus),
- common diving petrel (Pelecanoides urinatrix),
- South Georgian diving petrel (Pelecanoides georgicus),
- white-headed petrel (Pterodroma lessonii) and
- soft-plumaged petrel (Pterodroma mollis).
Only one group of oceanic islands, the Crozet group, supports a greater number of breeding seabirds than the Prince Edward Islands. All six species of albatrosses that breed in the ecoregion breed sympatrically on the Crozet Islands. 80% of the world’s population of Salvin’s prion (Pachyptila salvini salvini) is found on Île de l’Est of the Crozet group. Certain wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) populations outside the ecoregion may not be of the same subspecies as those within the ecoregion, which, if confirmed, will mean that the breeding range of by far the majority of the ecoregion’s subspecies is confined to that area. More than half the world’s population of king penguin is found on the Crozet archipelago. The world’s largest colony of this highly specialized mesopelagic predator is found on Île aux Cochons of the Crozet group, with 300,000 breeding pairs.
The king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) is unique among penguins, in that it has a breeding cycle that takes longer than a year to complete. The two major predators of the king penguin are the sub-Antarctic skua (Catharacta skua), which takes eggs and small chicks, and the southern giant petrel (Macronectes giganteus), which can take up to 10% of the chicks. The two sibling petrel species, the northern giant petrel (Macronectes halli) and southern giant petrel (M. giganteus) are the largest predator/scavengers in the Southern Ocean ecosystem. Apart from their normal prey of penguins, burrowing petrels, seal carrion, cephalopods, crustaceans and fish, Punta and Herrera have observed them preying on adult imperial cormorants in Argentina, and they have been observed to seasonally access crustacean prey items from the stomachs of their fish and penguins kills at Kerguelen and Crozet Islands, leaving the rest of the original prey item untouched. There is even a recorded instance of a M. giganteus individual killing and partly eating an immature black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophrys) off Newfoundland Head (outside the ecoregion).
There may be competition for food between the subantarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus tropicalis) and the southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) at certain sites within the ecoregion, for example Marion Island. Both fur seals are increasing in numbers throughout their ranges since sealing ceased, and at Crozet it is reported that both species’ populations are reaching their maximum possible growth rate. These seals were once driven to the brink of extinction by hunting. Interestingly, there exists a large breeding colony of the Antarctic fur seal (A. gazella) on Îles Leygues of the Kerguelen group that was never harvested, which recolonized the main island after exploitation had ended.
Southern elephant seal individuals also move between the Crozet and Prince Edward Islands, but no movements between the Crozet and Kerguelen Islands have been recorded, suggesting that the two populations are isolated from one other. Previous steep population declines of M. leonina at Marion, Prince Edward, Crozet, Kerguelen and Heard Islands appear to have now ended.
Among other suggestions, the previous population decline of Mirounga leonina at the Crozet Islands was linked to killer whale (Orca - Orcinus orca predation). A particular pod of O. orca at the Crozet Islands has developed an interesting hunting technique whereby individuals intentionally strand themselves on the shore in order to capture prey. Juveniles are taught to strand themselves by specific, often unrelated members of the pod that specialize in such teaching duties. Once the juveniles have mastered this skill, they must still be helped back to the sea with their prey by older members for their first few hunts. Of the other cetaceans associated with this ecoregion, the sei whale and fin whale populations around the Prince Edward, Crozet and Kerguelen Islands have been judged to be from two single stocks.
Types and Severity of Threats
Plant and/or animal aliens have invaded all the islands in the ecoregion, apart from McDonald Island (as far as is known). Some of these invasions have had serious effects.
Some of the most prominent alien plants on one or more of the islands of the ecoregion are Agrostis stolonifera, Poa annua, Poa pratensis, Cerastium fontanum, Rumex acetosella, Sagina apetala and Stellaria medea. Alien plants can, and do, have different effects. Poa annua is an alien plant that has colonized most sub-Antarctic islands.
Attempts have been made to introduce salmonid fish into the rivers of Marion, Crozet, and Kerguelen Islands. The introductions have only been successful on Kerguelen, which has relatively large rivers.
On the French Islands, many mammalian invaders are present, five of which were deliberately introduced (cats, rabbits, reindeer, sheep and the Corsican mouflon).
The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) occurs on both French archipelagos, to which it was introduced in the 1800s. It destroys indigenous vegetation (e.g. Pringlea antiscorbutica and Azorella selago), as well as the reproduction sites of burrowing petrels. The main effect of the O. cuniculus is indirect, though, as it provides a food source for cats during winter. This allows the cat population to remain relatively high outside the bird breeding season, resulting in a higher impact on the avifauna the next year.
The two rodents, the house mouse (Mus musculus) and the black rat (Rattus rattus) were both introduced to the Crozet archipelago in the 1800s. Mus musculus was introduced to the Kerguelen archipelago at around the same time as it was at Crozet, but Rattus rattus only found its way to the Kerguelen archipelago in the 1900s. On Crozet, Rattus rattus preys on the chicks and eggs of small petrels, and may have been responsible for the disappearance of the blue petrel (Halobaena caerulea), the gray-backed storm petrel (Garrodia nereis) and the Kerguelen diving petrel (Lugensa brevirostris) on Île de la Possession, to which island the rat is confined. Other petrel species have shown reduced survival on this island. However, those species that are able to breed above 400 meters (m) at Île de la Possession, can do so in large numbers. On Kerguelen, it has been noted that rats are mostly concentrated near the human settlement, and therefore cause little damage to the avifauna there.
Île aux Cochons is the only island of the Crozet archipelago to which Felis catus has been introduced. Felis catus was introduced to this island before 1887, and has subsequently caused the local extinction of the white-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis), the gray petrel (Procellaria cinerea), and the gadfly petrels. Felis catus has been specifically linked to the "vulnerable" status accorded the endemic Eaton’s pintail (Anas eatoni), which occurs only on these two French archipelagos (see Table 1). It does not enter the burrows of small petrels, as they are too narrow, and must instead rely on capturing this prey when it arrives or leaves the colony. This allows the smaller Salvin’s prion (Pachyptila salvini), fairy prion (Pachyptila turtur) and South Georgian diving petrel (Pelecanoides georgicus) to remain numerous on Île aux Cochons.
Chapuis et al. best describe the situation on the French Islands. "The three main rules for introductions defined by Pimm have been broken:
(1) introduction in the absence of predators and competitors;
(2) introduction of highly polyphagous species (herbivores);
(3) introduction in ‘relatively simple communities where the removal of a few plant species will cause the collapse of entire food chains.’"
However, this commentary on the modification of the French territories must conclude by noting that some of the smaller islands within these two archipelagos remain unmodified by alien mammals. The environments of many of these smaller islands have also been afforded legal protection and conservation status.
There is a rapidly expanding long-line fishing industry directed at the Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) in the Southern Ocean, which is marketed as Chilean sea bass. This fish, for which there is an extremely lucrative market, was only discovered and named in the early 1990s. It has a wide range, which covers a number of political zones. Since 1996, there has been widespread illegal fishing of this resource. Many fishing boats fly flags of convenience or are unflagged. Heavily implicated in this illegal fishery are Chilean operators, in which country there exists a highly developed illegal network to process the fish products.
Concentrated numbers of Dissostichus eleginoides are found around sub-Antarctic islands, including Heard and the Prince Edward, Crozet, Kerguelen Islands within the ecoregion. The level of fishing taking place is threatening the sustainability of the resource. At Heard Island, it has been suggested that the D. eleginoides fishery will most likely affect the southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina), which has already seen a dramatic population decrease, possibly due to overfishing around the Kerguelen Islands. Overfishing has been linked to M. leonina population declines elsewhere in the ecoregion, although it should be mentioned again here that the latest studies suggest that Mirounga leonina populations are stabilizing at all sites.
Biologically significant numbers of birds are killed by hooks laid by long-line fisheries. This is especially true of uncontrolled fisheries such as this, where mitigation measures (see below) are obviously not in place. Particularly affected are albatrosses. Diomedea exulans populations at Crozet and Kerguelen have showed a slow increase since 1986, since the Japanese fishing effort for the southern blue tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) was decreased in this region. However, given that younger and more naïve birds would be more affected, there should be a time lag of 5-10 years before a decrease in the wandering albatross’ breeding population is reflected. This suggests that perhaps the consequences of the recently developed intense Dissostichus eleginoides fishery must still be fully reflected by breeding populations of Diomedea exulans. There is some evidence that foraging wandering albatrosses follow the known movements of long-line fishing fleets.
Diving species such as the gray-headed albatross (Thalassarche chrysostoma) and particularly the white-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis) are very vulnerable to the fishery. Certainly, P. aequinoctialis forms the bulk of the avian by-catch in long-line fisheries. P. aequinoctialis already has a strong natural tendency to follow Orcinus orca pods in order to scavenge from their kills. The black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophrys) also does this, but to a lesser extent. Such natural habits make these pelagic birds more vulnerable to humans mimicking O. orca hunting activity. Studies on Crozet Island have shown that P. aequinoctialis forages widely, and that, during incubation, its average foraging range is the longest recorded for any seabird, foraging well beyond the Southern Ocean. This makes P. aequinoctialis, along with other birds that forage widely, particularly vulnerable to fishing activity outside protected areas. P. aequinoctialis can also forage at night, reducing the effectiveness of nighttime fishing, which has been used in the legal fishery to reduce fishery-induced albatross mortality.
The population declines of Thalassarche melanophrys at the Kerguelen Islands have also been linked to fishing activity, and it too has been recorded as a ship-following species. The fisheries are also a suggested cause for the decline in Phoebetria fusca and Thalassarche carteri populations. Apart from these three albatrosses, it is suspected that the giant petrels (Macronectes spp.) are also being negatively affected by the fishery.
Pollution: Potentially harmful releases of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) into the atmosphere through the burning of plastic waste by island researchers, potential leaks from fuel tanks on island stations, entanglement by and ingestion of fishing debris by the islands’ fauna, and oil pollution (in 1992 about 200 oiled Aptenodytes patagonicus penguins were found on the Crozet archipelago, and in 1980 a Soviet tanker spilt 600 tonnes of petroleum after running aground north of Grande Terre).
Disturbance of King Penguin colonies: Aptenodytes patagonicus are extremely susceptible to noise stress, even showing extreme reactions to thunderstorms. Human-induced examples of this include building activities that took place in the middle of a colony of A. patagonicus on Île de la Possession of the Crozet group, which caused the breeding birds to move elsewhere. It has been suggested that the many King Penguins found dead in 1990 on Macquarie Island (outside the ecoregion) after an aircraft had flown by was caused by panic. Similar panic, although no recorded deaths, has been observed on Marion Island.
Other human activity: Collection of artifacts by island-based personnel and research huts, the latter serving as focal points for the introduction and spread of alien biota.
Global warming: Smith has warned that the effects of climate change on Marion Island could result in opportunities for new organisms to colonize, and affect the breeding success of birds. The same is true of the other sub-Antarctic islands. Also possible is the release of current environmental constraints on already introduced aliens (e.g., Mus musculus on Marion Island). It has also been shown that the breeding performances of some seals and birds in the ecoregion are reduced by El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events.
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