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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13415

Diving plasticity in the ancestral range of an endangered marine predator (the yellow-eyed penguin, Megadyptes antipodes)

Chris G. Muller*, B. Louise Chilvers, Rebecca K. French, Phil F. Battley

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: In long-lived marine predators such as penguins, foraging behaviour is related to breeding success. Yellow-eyed penguins Megadyptes antipodes are thought to be predominantly benthic foragers around mainland New Zealand, with previous dive studies showing little variation in diving behaviour and minimal change by year or breeding status. This apparent absence of foraging flexibility may be linked to local prey availability and therefore also to foraging success, factors believed to contribute to the current population decline. Here, we undertook the first detailed study of yellow-eyed penguin diving and foraging behaviour in the subantarctic Auckland Islands, part of the original ancestral range of the species that colonised mainland New Zealand. We collected dive logs from 134 foraging trips made by 73 breeders from Enderby Island, Auckland Islands, in the New Zealand subantarctic. Pelagic dives and foraging trips were recorded in the subantarctic population – a foraging strategy not previously published in dive studies on this species. Changes between benthic and pelagic foraging were recorded for individuals within foraging trips, within a breeding season, and between years. Differences in diving behaviour between the subantarctic and that reported for mainland New Zealand are likely influenced by local bathymetry and environmental conditions, and prey availability. However, the subantarctic population shows a greater use of pelagic foraging not evident in the northern population, even in areas that have a similar depth to some mainland foraging areas. This observed foraging flexibility may have implications for breeding success and potentially the long-term population trends of these two genetically similar populations.