Increases in Antarctic penguin populations: reduced competition with whales or a loss of sea ice due to environmental warming?
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A central tenet of Antarctic ecology suggests that increases in Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis antarctica) populations during the last four decades resulted from an increase in prey availability brought on by the decrease in baleen whale stocks. We question this tenet and present evidence to support the hypothesis that these increases are due to a gradual decrease in the frequency of cold years with extensive winter sea ice cover resulting from environmental warming. Supporting data were derived from one of the first, major multidisciplinary winter expedition to the Scotia and Weddell seas; recent satellite images of ocean ice cover; and the analysis of long-term surface temperature records and penguin demography. Our observations indicate there is a need to pay close attention to environmental data in the management of Southern Ocean resources given the complexity of relating biological changes to ecological perturbations.
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