MEPS 421:265-277 (2011)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps08863

Stable isotopes reveal regional heterogeneity in the pre-breeding distribution and diets of sympatrically breeding Pygoscelis spp. penguins

Michael J. Polito1,*, Heather J. Lynch2, Ron Naveen3, Steven D. Emslie1

1Department of Biology and Marine Biology, University of North Carolina Wilmington, 601 South College Road, Wilmington, North Carolina 28403, USA
2Department of Biology, 3237 Biology-Psychology Building, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA
3Oceanites Inc., PO Box 15259, Chevy Chase, Maryland 20825, USA

ABSTRACT: While the foraging ecology of the Adélie penguin Pygoscelis adeliae and gentoo penguin P. papua has been well studied, little is known on the distribution and diet of these species outside the breeding season. In the present study we used stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope analyses of eggshells to examine the pre-breeding diets and foraging habitats of female Adélie and gentoo penguins from 23 breeding colonies along the eastern and western Antarctic Peninsula (AP), South Shetland Islands, and South Orkney Islands, in 2006. Adélie penguin eggshells from the eastern AP, South Shetland Islands, and South Orkney Islands shared similar isotopic signatures and were significantly lower in both δ13C and δ15N values than eggshells from birds breeding along the western AP. This result suggests that Adélie penguin populations that are geographically separated during the breeding season by the Adélie ‘gap,’ a 400 km region in the western AP devoid of breeding Adélie penguins, also inhabit geographically distinct habitats during the late winter prior to the breeding season. To a lesser degree, gentoo penguin eggshell isotope values also varied across breeding colonies, which likely reflects local scale variation in their near-shore foraging grounds. Furthermore, unlike the breeding period when krill (primarily Euphausia superba) dominates penguin diets in these regions, our findings suggest that fish and/or other high trophic-level prey species comprise a significant portion (46.8 to 62.9%) of female Adélie and gentoo penguin diets prior to breeding.


KEY WORDS: Stable isotope analysis · Adélie penguin · Gentoo penguin · Pygoscelis adeliae · Pygoscelis papua · Distribution · Diet


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Cite this article as: Polito MJ, Lynch HJ, Naveen R, Emslie SD (2011) Stable isotopes reveal regional heterogeneity in the pre-breeding distribution and diets of sympatrically breeding Pygoscelis spp. penguins. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 421:265-277. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps08863

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