Working less to gain more: when breeding quality relates to foraging efficiency

Ecology. 2010 Jul;91(7):2044-55. doi: 10.1890/09-0766.1.


In animal populations, a minority of individuals consistently achieves the highest breeding success and therefore contributes the most recruits to future generations. On average, foraging performance is important in determining breeding success at the population level, but evidence is scarce to show that more successful breeders (better breeders) forage differently than less successful ones (poorer breeders). To test this hypothesis, we used a 10-year, three-colony, individual-based longitudinal data set on breeding success and foraging parameters of a long-lived bird, the Adélie Penguin, Pygoscelis adeliae. Better breeders foraged more efficiently than poorer breeders under harsh environmental conditions and when offspring needs were higher, therefore gaining higher net energy profit to be allocated to reproduction and survival. These results imply that adverse "extrinsic" conditions might select breeding individuals on the basis of their foraging ability. Adélie Penguins show sufficient phenotypic plasticity that at least a portion of the population is capable of surviving and successfully reproducing despite extreme variability in their physical and biological environment, variability that is likely to be associated with climate change and, ultimately, with the species' evolution. This study is the first to demonstrate the importance of "extrinsic" conditions (in terms of environmental conditions and offspring needs) on the relationship between foraging behavior and individual quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breeding
  • Diving
  • Ecosystem
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Seasons
  • Spheniscidae / physiology*