Nonlinear effects of winter sea ice on the survival probabilities of Adélie penguins
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- Ballerini, T., Tavecchia, G., Olmastroni, S. et al. Oecologia (2009) 161: 253. doi:10.1007/s00442-009-1387-9
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The population dynamics of Antarctic seabirds are influenced by variations in winter sea ice extent and persistence; however, the type of relationship differs according to the region and the demographic parameter considered. We used annual presence/absence data obtained from 1,138 individually marked birds to study the influence of environmental and individual characteristics on the survival of Adélie penguins Pygoscelis adeliae at Edmonson Point (Ross Sea, Antarctica) between 1994 and 2005. About 25% of 600 birds marked as chicks were reobserved at the natal colony. The capture and survival rates of Adélie penguins at this colony increased with the age of individuals, and five age classes were identified for both parameters. Mean adult survival was 0.85 (SE = 0.01), and no effect of sex on survival was evident. Breeding propensity, as measured by adult capture rates, was close to one, indicating a constant breeding effort through time. Temporal variations in survival were best explained by a quadratic relationship with winter sea ice extent anomalies in the Ross Sea, suggesting that for this region optimal conditions are intermediate between too much and too little winter sea ice. This is likely the result of a balance between suitable wintering habitat and food availability. Survival rates were not correlated with the Southern Oscillation Index. Low adult survival after a season characterized by severe environmental conditions at breeding but favorable conditions during winter suggested an additional mortality mediated by the reproductive effort. Adélie penguins are sensitive indicators of environmental changes in the Antarctic, and the results from this study provide insights into regional responses of this species to variability in winter sea ice habitat.