Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 70, Issue 4, pp 467–479 | Cite as

The canalized parental roles of a Eudyptes penguin constrain provisioning and growth of chicks during nutritional stress

  • Kyle W. MorrisonEmail author
  • Neil C. Morrison
  • Raymond M. Buchheit
  • Rob Dunn
  • Phil F. Battley
  • David R. Thompson
Original Article


Behavioral plasticity may allow organisms to respond adaptively to reduced food availability caused by climate change, facilitating population persistence. Conversely, inflexible parental roles may constrain sex-specific parental investment and amplify reduced reproductive fitness during nutritional stress. We examined chick-provisioning rates of transponder-tagged female and male eastern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome filholi) using an automated gateway on Campbell Island, New Zealand in a year of good diet quality and a poor year of nutritional stress. All seven species of Eudyptes penguins are unique in exhibiting canalized parental roles during the first 3–4 weeks of chick-rearing: males fast while guarding chicks provisioned exclusively by females. In the remaining 5–6 weeks before fledging, chicks form crèches and are typically fed by both parents. Each species of Eudyptes is also “vulnerable” or “endangered”, generally because of long-term population declines linked to climate-induced nutritional stress. We hypothesized that the unique role division of Eudyptes penguins contributes to their sensitivity to nutritional stress. We found that chick growth was strongly positively correlated with total provisioning rate. Both sexes made longer foraging trips and provisioned less often under nutritional stress, but males decreased their investment in chick-provisioning more than females by making extra-long self-feeding trips early in the crèche period. We show that Eudyptes chicks would be fed more often if the sexes shared all chick-provisioning, especially under nutritional stress. We conclude that the canalized division of labor strategy of Eudyptes penguins is maladapted to more frequent years of nutritional stress under climate change.


Behavioral plasticity Climate change Conspecific aggression Eudyptes chrysocome filholi Maladaptation Southern rockhopper penguin 



We thank two reviewers and Associate Editor M. Leonard for constructive comments. D. Armstrong, N. Ratcliffe, M. Rayner, and S. Jamieson provided helpful feedback and discussion. We are grateful to S. Cockburn at the New Zealand Department of Conservation, National Office for providing RFID data loggers. Thank you to the Department of Conservation, Southland Conservancy for supporting our research on Campbell Island and to H. Haazen and the crew of RV “Tiama” for safe transport.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


This study was funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (contract C01X0905 to the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research). Additional research funding was generously provided by the Hutton Fund of The Royal Society of New Zealand and the Penguin Fund of Japan. KWM is grateful to Massey University, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and Education New Zealand for scholarship support.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical approval

Our methods were approved by the Massey University Animal Ethics Committee (protocol no. 10/90).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kyle W. Morrison
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Neil C. Morrison
    • 3
  • Raymond M. Buchheit
    • 4
  • Rob Dunn
    • 5
  • Phil F. Battley
    • 1
  • David R. Thompson
    • 2
  1. 1.Ecology Group, Institute of Agriculture and EnvironmentMassey UniversityPalmerston NorthNew Zealand
  2. 2.National Institute of Water and Atmospheric ResearchHataitaiNew Zealand
  3. 3.VancouverCanada
  4. 4.Department of EcologyMontana State UniversityBozemanUSA
  5. 5.NewburyEngland

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