Population dynamics of Eastern Rockhopper Penguins on Campbell Island in relation to sea surface temperature 1942–2012: current warming hiatus pauses a long-term decline

Abstract

Major population changes of marine mega-fauna are ongoing as global warming, and other anthropogenic drivers affect prey availability. The historical stronghold of the Eastern Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome filholi) was New Zealand’s sub-Antarctic Campbell Island, but the population declined by 94 % between 1942 and 1984. The apparent mechanism of collapse was warm ocean temperatures causing an inadequate food supply. Eudyptes penguin population declines are ongoing at some breeding sites, highlighting the need to investigate the population trend on Campbell Island since 1984. We estimated the Eastern Rockhopper Penguin breeding population size through physical and photo-counts of birds and nests in 2012, and changes in colony area relative to 1984 and 1996 photographs. We estimated the 2012 population size at 33,239 breeding pairs, a 21.8 % decrease from an (adjusted) estimate of 42,528 pairs in 1984. Although substantial, the recent 1984–2012 decline occurred at a much slower rate (λ = 0.991) than the 1942–1984 decline (λ = 0.940). Despite great variation in trends between colonies ostensibly linked to differences in predation rates, the recent decline occurred primarily between 1984 and 1996, and thereafter the overall population grew. A 100-year time series of extended reconstructed sea surface temperatures (ERSST) confirmed that the population declined during warm periods and increased during cool periods, but that the initial decline began before increases in regional ERSST. Population growth after 1996 appears related to the current global warming hiatus, lower ERSST, and increased abundance of a key prey species. We predict a continuation of the long-term population decline after warming resumes.

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Acknowledgements

Our thanks to D. Armstrong and the three anonymous reviewers of this manuscript for constructive comments. This work was supported by the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (contract C01X0905 to the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research). K.W.M. is grateful to Massey University, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and Education New Zealand for financial support. Thank you to P. Moors, D. Cunningham, P. Moore, G. Taylor, J. Roberts, and S. Jamieson for photographs, unpublished data, and helpful discussions. We appreciate L. Chilvers for providing the Campbell Island base map and J. Roberts the ERSST data. 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. Our methods were approved by the Massey University Animal Ethics Committee, Protocol No. 10/90. This research would not have been possible without the penguin-counting efforts and cliff-edge anchorage provided almost willingly from N. Morrison, R. Buchheit, and R. Dunn.

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Morrison, K.W., Battley, P.F., Sagar, P.M. et al. Population dynamics of Eastern Rockhopper Penguins on Campbell Island in relation to sea surface temperature 1942–2012: current warming hiatus pauses a long-term decline. Polar Biol 38, 163–177 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-014-1575-x

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Eudyptes chrysocome filholi
  • Global warming hiatus
  • Marine top predator
  • Seabird
  • Sub-Antarctic