, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 21-30

Hatching asynchrony, sibling hierarchies and brood reduction in the Chinstrap penguin Pygoscelis antarctica

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We studied patterns of chick growth and mortality in relation to egg size and hatching asynchrony during two breeding seasons (1991 and 1992) in a colony of chinstrap penguins sited in the Vapour Col rookery, Deception Island, South Shetlands. Intraclutch variability in egg size was slight and not related to chick asymmetry at hatching. Hatching was asynchronous in 78% (1991) and 69% (1992) of the clutches, asynchrony ranging from 1 to 4 days (on average 0.9 in 1991 and 1.0 days in 1992). Chicks resulting from oneegg clutches grew better than chicks in families of two in 1991. In 1992, single chicks grew to the same size and mass at 46 days of age as chicks of broods of two, suggesting food limitation in 1991 but not in 1992. In 1991, asymmetry between siblings in mass and flipper length was significantly greater in asynchronous than in synchronous families during the initial guard stage, but these differences disappeared during the later créche phase. In 1992, asymmetry in body mass increased with hatching asynchrony and decreased with age. Only the effect of age was significant for flipper length and culmen. Asymmetries at 15 days were similar in both years, but significantly lower in 1992 than in 1991 at 46 days of age. There were relatively frequent reversals of size hierarchies during both phases of chick growth in the two years, reversals being more common in 1991 than in 1992 for small chicks. In 1991, survivors of brood reduction grew significantly worse than chicks in nonreduced broods. In both years, chicks of synchronous broods attained similarly large sizes before fledging as both A and B chicks of asynchronous broods. In 1991, chick mortality rate increased during the guard stage due to parental desertions, decreased during the transition to crèches (occurs at a mean age of 29 days) and returned to high constant levels during the crèche stage, when it is mostly due to starvation (in total 66% of hatched chicks survived to fledging). In contrast, in 1992, mortality was relatively high immediately after hatching and almost absent for chicks older than 3 weeks (87% of chicks survived to fledging). Mortality affected similarly one- and two-chick families. In 1991, asynchronous families suffered a significantly greater probability of brood reduction than synchronous families, but this probability was not significantly related to degree of asymmetry between siblings. No association between asynchrony and mortality was found in 1992. These results show that there is food limitation in this population during the crèche phase in some years, that asynchronous hatching does not facilitate early brood reduction and that it does not ensure stable size hierarchies between siblings. Brood reduction due to starvation is not associated to prior asymmetry and does not facilitate the survival or improve the growth of the surviving chick. Asynchronous hatching may be a consequence of thermal constraints on embryo development inducing incubation of eggs as soon as they are laid.