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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 405:287-302 (2010)  -  DOI:

Foraging strategies of Adélie penguins: adjusting body condition to cope with environmental variability

Grant Ballard1,2,*, Katie M. Dugger3, Nadav Nur1, David G. Ainley4

1PRBO Conservation Science, 3820 Cypress Drive #11, Petaluma, California 94954, USA
2School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
3Oregon State University, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, 104 Nash Hall, Corvallis, Oregon 97331-3803, USA
4H. T. Harvey & Associates, 983 University Avenue, Bldg. D, Los Gatos, California 95032, USA

ABSTRACT: Animals modulate breeding effort by balancing investment in self-maintenance against investment in their young, potentially impacting reproductive success when faced with difficult conditions. This life history trade-off model has been evaluated for flying birds, especially those that forage over large pelagic regions of relatively sparse prey availability. We evaluated its applicability to penguins which, lacking flight, depend on reliably available prey relatively close to colonies. We used transponders and an automated weighing system to monitor 40 to 75 breeding Adélie penguins Pygoscelis adeliae per season for 10 seasons, while environmental conditions varied dramatically, measuring foraging trip duration, parental mass change, and total food load delivered to chicks. Parents that lost the most mass during breeding provided more food to chicks while maintaining their own condition. In contrast, in years when adult mass was lower to begin with, parents recovered their own condition and delivered less food to chicks. Food loads were also related to environmental variables, with parents making longer trips and delivering less food when access to prey was more difficult, but delivering more food to 2-chick broods than to 1-chick broods. Penguins did not alternate between short (chick provisioning) and long (self-maintenance) trips, as has been observed in far-ranging seabirds. Nevertheless, our results indicate they regulated their condition depending on environmental and physiological factors, with impacts on the amount of food delivered to young and pre-fledging mass. Parental choice of multiple foraging habitats and depletion of prey in the nearest habitat due to intraspecific competition have important implications in explaining contrasting patterns observed among studies investigating the life history trade-off model in birds.

KEY WORDS: Adélie penguin · Adult condition · Chick provisioning · Environmental variability · Foraging effort · Foraging trip duration · Iceberg · Parental investment · Sea ice · Weighbridge

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Cite this article as: Ballard G, Dugger KM, Nur N, Ainley DG (2010) Foraging strategies of Adélie penguins: adjusting body condition to cope with environmental variability. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 405:287-302.

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