Population Ecology

, Volume 58, Issue 1, pp 105–119 | Cite as

Changes in habitat use and nesting density in a declining seabird colony

  • Ginger A. RebstockEmail author
  • P. Dee Boersma
  • Pablo García-Borboroglu
Original article


Seabirds in expanding colonies select the highest-quality nesting habitat, but habitat selection has seldom been studied in declining colonies. We studied a colony of Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) that declined from 314,000 active nests in 1987 to 201,000 in 2014. As expected, nest quality and reproductive success were higher in burrow habitats than in other habitats, and nest density decreased with distance from shore. Contrary to predictions, the steepest declines did not occur in the poorest-quality habitat (scrub) or near the inland colony edge and the colony area did not shrink. In agreement with predictions, penguins shifted from nests with less cover to nests with more cover. The highest nest densities and the steepest declines were in habitats of large bushes and bush clusters. As the population declined penguins abandoned nests on the edges of large bushes. Constraints on penguin habitat-use changes include strong area and nest-site fidelity, increased avian predation in high-density areas, soil characteristics, and the costs of making and maintaining nests. Contrary to conventional wisdom we found low-density, poor-quality scrub habitat (which covers >70 % of the colony area) contained 45 % of active nests, produced 44 % of fledglings, and was as important as high-quality habitat for reproductive output. Our research shows that all habitats in a declining colony of seabirds have value for conservation.


Colonial seabird Habitat quality Magellanic penguin Nest quality Population decline Spheniscus magellanicus 



Our work was funded by the Wadsworth Endowed chair, University of Washington, the Wildlife Conservation Society, ExxonMobil Foundation, the Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation, the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, the Chase, Cunningham, MKCG, Offield, Peach, Thorne, and Kellogg Foundations, and Friends of the Penguins. Permits were from the Offices of Tourism and Flora and Fauna, Province of Chubut, Argentina. We thank the Province of Chubut and particularly the La Regina family for access to the penguin colony. We thank the many students and field volunteers that collected data over the years as well as volunteers through the Wildlife Conservation Society and students from Puerto Madryn and Trelew, Argentina. Trimble provided six rugged tablets and Canon provided two pairs of binoculars. We thank Carlos García, Norma Gonzalez, Graham and Patricia Harris, Alberto La Regina, and Carol Passera for logistical help. We thank Miles Logsdon for advice on mapping and Johannah Verhulst for digitizing the habitat map. Maps in this manuscript were created using ArcGIS® software by Esri. ArcGIS® and ArcMap™ are the intellectual property of Esri and are used herein under license. Copyright © Esri. All rights reserved. The World Imagery basemap in ArcMap has the following sources: Esri, DigitalGlobe, GeoEye, i-cubed, USDA FSA, USGS, AEX, Getmapping, Aerogrid, IGN, IGP, swisstopo, and the GIS User Community. Two anonymous reviewers improved the manuscript.

Supplementary material

10144_2015_523_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.7 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 1759 kb)


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Copyright information

© The Society of Population Ecology and Springer Japan 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ginger A. Rebstock
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • P. Dee Boersma
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Pablo García-Borboroglu
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Global Penguin SocietyPuerto MadrynArgentina
  3. 3.Wildlife Conservation SocietyNew YorkUSA
  4. 4.Centro Nacional Patagónico (CONICET)Puerto MadrynArgentina

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