, Volume 164, Issue 4, pp 911–919 | Cite as

Stable isotopes reveal Holocene changes in the diet of Adélie penguins in Northern Victoria Land (Ross Sea, Antarctica)

  • Sandra LorenziniEmail author
  • Carlo Baroni
  • Anthony E. Fallick
  • Ilaria Baneschi
  • Maria Cristina Salvatore
  • Giovanni Zanchetta
  • Luigi Dallai
Behavioral ecology - Original Paper


Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) modern and fossil eggshells and guano samples collected from ornithogenic soils in Terra Nova Bay (Victoria Land, Ross Sea) were processed for carbon and nitrogen isotopic ratios with the aim of detecting past penguin dietary changes. A detailed and greatly expanded Adélie penguin dietary record dated back to 7,200 years BP has been reconstructed for the investigated area. Our data indicate a significant dietary shift between fish and krill, with a gradual decrease from past to present time in the proportion of fish compared to krill in Adélie penguin diet. From 7,200 to 2,000 years BP, δ13C and δ15N values indicate fish as the most eaten prey. The dietary contribution of lower-trophic prey in penguin diet started becoming evident not earlier than 2,000 years BP, when the δ13C values reveal a change in the penguin feeding behavior. Modern eggshell and guano samples reveal a major dietary contribution of krill but not a krill-dominated diet, since δ13C values remain much too high if krill prevail in the diet. According to the Holocene environmental background attested for Victoria Land, Adélie penguin dietary shifts between fish and krill seem to reflect penguin paleoecological responses to different paleoenvironmental settings with different conditions of sea-ice extension and persistence. Furthermore, Adélie penguin diet appears to be particularly affected by environmental changes in a very specific period within the breeding season, namely the egg-laying period when penguin dietary and feeding habit shifts are clearly documented by the δ13C of eggshell carbonate.


Adélie penguins Stable isotopes Paleodiet Holocene 



This work was executed under the financial support of the Italian National Program on Antarctic Research (PNRA) and of the PhD School in Earth Sciences of the University of Pisa. Isotopic analyses were performed at the SUERC of East Kilbride (Scotland) and at the IGG-CNR of Pisa (Italy). We particularly thank Julie Dougans and Andrew Tait for their irreplaceable technical support and supervision in stable isotope analyses at SUERC. New radiocarbon dates on penguin remains reported here were performed at the National Ocean Sciences Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Facility (NOSAMS) at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (USA). We finally thank S. McWilliams, D. Ainley and a third anonymous reviewer for their careful readings and constructive suggestions.

Supplementary material

442_2010_1790_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (187 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 186 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sandra Lorenzini
    • 1
    Email author
  • Carlo Baroni
    • 1
    • 2
  • Anthony E. Fallick
    • 3
  • Ilaria Baneschi
    • 2
  • Maria Cristina Salvatore
    • 4
  • Giovanni Zanchetta
    • 1
    • 2
  • Luigi Dallai
    • 2
  1. 1.Dipartimento di Scienze della TerraUniversità degli Studi di PisaPisaItaly
  2. 2.Istituto di Geoscienze e Georisorse, Consiglio Nazionale delle RicerchePisaItaly
  3. 3.Scottish Universities Environmental Research CentreScotlandUK
  4. 4.Dipartimento di Scienze della TerraUniversità di Roma “La Sapienza”RomeItaly

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