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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 467:233-244 (2012)  -  DOI:

Site-specific reproductive failure and decline of a population of the Endangered yellow-eyed penguin: a case for foraging habitat quality

S. D. King1, G. A. Harper2,4,*, J. B. Wright1,5, J. C. McInnes1,6, J. E. van der Lubbe1,7, M. L. Dobbins3, S. J. Murray1,

1Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, PO Box 5409, Dunedin, New Zealand
2Zoology Department, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand
3Department of Conservation, PO Box 3, Stewart Island, New Zealand
4Present address: Department of Conservation, PO Box 55, St Arnaud, New Zealand
5Present address: 21 Henry Street, Te Anau, New Zealand
6Present address: C/- 53 Aurum Cres., Ringwood Nth., Victoria 3134, Australia
7Present address: 14 Mary St, Port Chalmers, New Zealand

ABSTRACT: Sub-populations within species can exhibit differing population growth trajectories in relation to one another depending on various environmental factors. In threatened species, negative population growth in some sub-populations can ultimately cause the demise of the species; therefore, understanding causal factors of population change is critical to inform management aimed at reversing population declines. Feral house cats Felis catus are potential predators of Endangered yellow-eyed penguins Megadyptes antipodes and were considered the principal causal factor in the species’ decline on Stewart Island/Rakiura, New Zealand. The number of yellow-eyed penguins breeding on Stewart Island is low relative to the number on close outlying islands, where cats are absent, and a census had recorded few juveniles on Stewart Island, suggesting poor reproductive success. Yellow-eyed penguin breeding attempts on the northern coast of Stewart Island and outlying islands were monitored for 5 yr, but predation by cats was not evident. Instead, disease, probably aggravated by starvation and poor dietary provisioning, was found to be a significant cause of chick mortality on Stewart Island. Reproductive success was consistently low there (0−33%), in contrast to outlying islands (27−76%). Little recruitment was recorded on Stewart Island, and the number of breeding pairs on the northern coast of Stewart Island declined by 27% between 1999 and 2008. Factors unique to the north coast of Stewart Island are believed to be adversely affecting nesting yellow-eyed penguins, as a similar decline was not recorded elsewhere on the island or on outlying islands.

KEY WORDS: Megadyptes antipodes · Feral cat · Population decline · Breeding success · Chick mortality · Starvation · Disease · ‘Junk-food’ hypothesis

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Cite this article as: King SD, Harper GA, Wright JB, McInnes JC, van der Lubbe JE, Dobbins ML, Murray SJ (2012) Site-specific reproductive failure and decline of a population of the Endangered yellow-eyed penguin: a case for foraging habitat quality. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 467:233-244.

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