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, 105 (7), 2493-7

King Penguin Population Threatened by Southern Ocean Warming

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King Penguin Population Threatened by Southern Ocean Warming

Céline Le Bohec et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.

Abstract

Seabirds are sensitive indicators of changes in marine ecosystems and might integrate and/or amplify the effects of climate forcing on lower levels in food chains. Current knowledge on the impact of climate changes on penguins is primarily based on Antarctic birds identified by using flipper bands. Although flipper bands have helped to answer many questions about penguin biology, they were shown in some penguin species to have a detrimental effect. Here, we present for a Subantarctic species, king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus), reliable results on the effect of climate on survival and breeding based on unbanded birds but instead marked by subcutaneous electronic tags. We show that warm events negatively affect both breeding success and adult survival of this seabird. However, the observed effect is complex because it affects penguins at several spatio/temporal levels. Breeding reveals an immediate response to forcing during warm phases of El Niño Southern Oscillation affecting food availability close to the colony. Conversely, adult survival decreases with a remote sea-surface temperature forcing (i.e., a 2-year lag warming taking place at the northern boundary of pack ice, their winter foraging place). We suggest that this time lag may be explained by the delay between the recruitment and abundance of their prey, adjusted to the particular 1-year breeding cycle of the king penguin. The derived population dynamic model suggests a 9% decline in adult survival for a 0.26 degrees C warming. Our findings suggest that king penguin populations are at heavy extinction risk under the current global warming predictions.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Figures

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
Effect of sea-surface temperature on the survival of adult king penguins. The probability of annual survival of adult king penguins from Crozet Islands plotted against the sea-surface temperature 2 years earlier at the latitude 56°S (i.e., MIZ). Estimates are from the time-dependent model [pi φt]. Bars indicate ± standard error. Plotted curve corresponds to the estimates obtained with the best model [pi φSSTt − 2/56°S].

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