Good days, bad days : wind as a driver of foraging success in a flightless seabird, the southern rockhopper penguin
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
, p. 1-8
University of Antwerp
Due to their restricted foraging range, flightless seabirds are ideal models to study the short-term variability in foraging success in response to environmentally driven food availability. Wind can be a driver of upwelling and food abundance in marine ecosystems such as the Southern Ocean, where wind regime changes due to global warming may have important ecological consequences. Southern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome) have undergone a dramatic population decline in the past decades, potentially due to changing environmental conditions. We used a weighbridge system to record daily foraging mass gain (the difference in mean mass of adults leaving the colony in the morning and returning to the colony in the evening) of adult penguins during the chick rearing in two breeding seasons. We related the day-to-day variability in foraging mass gain to ocean wind conditions (wind direction and wind speed) and tested for a relationship between wind speed and sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTA). Foraging mass gain was highly variable among days, but did not differ between breeding seasons, chick rearing stages (guard and crèche) and sexes. It was strongly correlated between males and females, indicating synchronous changes among days. There was a significant interaction of wind direction and wind speed on daily foraging mass gain. Foraging mass gain was highest under moderate to strong winds from westerly directions and under weak winds from easterly directions, while decreasing under stronger easterly winds and storm conditions. Ocean wind speed showed a negative correlation with daily SSTA, suggesting that winds particularly from westerly directions might enhance upwelling and consequently the prey availability in the penguins' foraging areas. Our data emphasize the importance of small-scale, wind-induced patterns in prey availability on foraging success, a widely neglected aspect in seabird foraging studies, which might become more important with increasing changes in climatic variability.