The long engagement of the emperor penguin
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In birds, courtship is generally short relative to the whole breeding cycle. Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri), however, are an exception as their courtship period is much longer (ca. 6 weeks) than the courtship of other penguin species. This strategy may appear surprising, as it is especially costly to fast and endure drastic climatic conditions for long periods at the colony (1.5 and up to 4 months for females and males, respectively). We examined here the reasons of this extended courtship period and found that emperor penguins returned earlier to the colony when primary oceanic production before breeding was high. This suggests that emperor penguins return to the colony as soon as primary oceanic production in summer allows them to replenish their body reserves. The extended period of time spent at the colony during courtship may therefore result from an evolutionary process that confers advantages to emperor penguins that arrive earlier at the colony by reducing predation risks and offering better chances of securing a partner.
KeywordsCourtship Breeding Primary oceanic production Antarctica Spheniscidae
We thank the 109 and 137 IPEV programs for providing the phenological events occurring during the emperor penguin pairing period, B. Thierry for suggesting this paper, and S. Gallon for her help in revising the language. The manuscript benefited from critical comments by D. Piepenburg and three anonymous reviewers.
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