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MEPS 722:1-17 (2023)  -  DOI:

Diving efficiency at depth and pre-breeding foraging effort increase with haemoglobin levels in gentoo penguins

Sarah P. McComb-Turbitt1, Glenn T. Crossin2, Megan Tierney3, Paul Brickle4,5, Philip Trathan6,7, Tony D. Williams8, Marie Auger-Méthé1,9,*

1Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada
2Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4R2, Canada
3Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Quay House, 2 Station Road, Fletton Quays, Peterborough PE2 8YY, UK
4South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute, Stanley Cottage, Ross Road, Stanley FIQQ 1ZZ, Falkland Islands
5School of Biological Sciences (Zoology), University of Aberdeen, Tillydrone Avenue, Aberdeen, Scotland AB24 2TZ, UK
6British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK
7National Oceanography Centre, Waterfront Campus European Way, Southampton SO14 3ZH, UK
8Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6, Canada
9Department of Statistics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Individual differences in oxygen storage and carrying capacity have been associated with fitness-related traits and, for air-breathing aquatic animals, to diving ability and foraging success. In winter, many seabirds must replenish the energy reserves they have depleted during the breeding period. Thus, winter foraging efficiency can influence their upcoming breeding behaviour. Using gentoo penguins Pygoscelis papua as a study species, we investigated (1) if inter-individual variation in diving efficiency (proportion of time spent at the bottom) is associated with indices of oxygen storage and carrying capacity (haemoglobin, haematocrit, body mass), and (2) if measures of pre-breeding foraging effort (mean trip duration, total time at sea, and vertical distance travelled) are associated with these oxygen indices and breeding status. Haemoglobin was positively correlated with diving efficiency, particularly for deeper dives, and only penguins with high haemoglobin levels frequently dove to depths ≥140 m. Such differences could affect resource access. However, because reaching deep offshore waters likely requires travelling more than foraging nearshore, vertical distance travelled during pre-breeding increased with haemoglobin levels. The relationship with haematocrit was non-linear, suggesting that commonly used analyses may be inappropriate for this index. We found that early-laying penguins spent less time at sea prior to nesting than non-breeding penguins, suggesting that more efficient foragers lay earlier. Given that diving efficiency at depth is linked to aerobic capacity, anthropogenic activities taking place in either nearshore or offshore waters (e.g. shallow-water fisheries, offshore oil rigs) may have differing impacts on individuals. Further understanding these links could help the conservation of diving species.

KEY WORDS: Diving efficiency · Oxygen storage capacity · Oxygen carrying capacity · Breeding participation · Gentoo penguin · Haemoglobin · Haematocrit · Body mass · Time-depth recorder

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Cite this article as: McComb-Turbitt SP, Crossin GT, Tierney M, Brickle P, Trathan P, Williams TD, Auger-Méthé M (2023) Diving efficiency at depth and pre-breeding foraging effort increase with haemoglobin levels in gentoo penguins. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 722:1-17.

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