MEPS 251:279-297 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps251279

Geographic variation in the foraging behaviour, diet and chick growth of rockhopper penguins

Yann Tremblay*, Yves Cherel

Centre d¹Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, UPR 1934 du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, BP 14, 79360 Villiers-en-Bois, France

ABSTRACT: The foraging ecology of rockhopper penguins was investigated at 3 sites marked by contrasting ecological conditions. The northern subspecies was studied at Amsterdam Island (AMS) in oceanic subtropical waters, and the southern subspecies at the Kerguelen Archipelago (KER) in a subantarctic coastal habitat and at the Crozet Archipelago (CRO) in subantarctic neritic waters. During the brooding period, females from every site mainly made daily foraging trips lasting 11 to 12 h. A principal component analysis (PCA) on 22 variables of daily foraging trips reduced these variables to 3 principal components, which were related to diving mode (PC1), foraging effort (PC2) and variation in diving behaviour (PC3). Overall, PC1 indicated that birds from AMS dived shallower, had shorter dive duration and bottom time, and were less active during less efficient dives than birds from KER and CRO. On the other hand, PC3 showed that birds from KER segregated from those of AMS and CRO by performing more uniform foraging trips with less variability in dive parameters. The PCA emphasised that most of the characteristics of daily trips and all the characteristics of foraging dives varied according to the study sites, thus stressing the importance of distinct environments in shaping the foraging behaviour of seabirds. Food loads, and accordingly chick growth, were lower at AMS, medium at CRO and higher at KER, while indices of foraging effort presented little variation. Birds at AMS fed mainly on the euphausiid Thysanoessa gregaria and on larger juvenile squids, while birds from CRO and KER preyed upon the subantarctic krill Euphausia vallentini. Diving strategies together with food loads and chick growth rates suggest that prey availability was low at AMS, intermediate at CRO and high at KER, which is in agreement with previous data on chlorophyll concentrations and zooplankton biomass. The study shows the complexity of foraging behaviour of penguins. It illustrates the importance of behavioural plasticity and suggests that it is a fundamental trait of the life history of seabirds living in highly variable environments.

KEY WORDS: Behavioural plasticity · Coastal · Diving behaviour · Thysanoessa gregaria · Eudyptes chrysocome · Oceanic · Neritic · Euphausia vallentini

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