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Presence of King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) on Elephant Island provides further evidence of range expansion


King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) are a circumpolar sub-Antarctic species inhabiting most of the major sub-Antarctic island chains of the Southern Ocean, the Falkland Islands, and regions of Patagonia. Despite early suggestions to the contrary, there is no conclusive historical evidence of King penguin inhabitation of the Antarctic Peninsula or the South Shetland Islands until the past decade. After a near-complete survey of Elephant Island, we report widespread presence of this species, including documented incubation at one site and molting at another. While we found no evidence of King penguins successfully fledging a chick at any of the sites where individuals were found, their presence across numerous sites suggests the potential for future range expansion in response to warming conditions.

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The authors wish to thank Frida Bengtsson, Grant Oakes, Greenpeace, and the crew of the MY Esperanza for their tenacity, assistance, and logistical support for this expedition. They also gratefully acknowledge Oceanites, the financial support of the Pew Charitable Trusts, and constructive reviews from Mariana A. Juáres and Maria V. Petry.


Support for fieldwork was provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

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All authors conceived of the project; AB prepared the manuscript, MW and NS contributed figures, AB, SF, MW, and NS conducted the fieldwork, and all authors provided comments on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alex Borowicz.

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Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

Fieldwork was permitted under the U.S. Antarctic Conservation Act (permit ACA 2019–001, ACA 2020–010, ACA 2020–011). Observations of King penguins were approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee at Stony Brook University (2011–1881-R2-6.19.20-BI).

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Borowicz, A., Forrest, S., Wethington, M. et al. Presence of King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) on Elephant Island provides further evidence of range expansion. Polar Biol 43, 2117–2120 (2020).

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  • Range expansion
  • Climate change
  • Colonization
  • Antarctica