The relative importance of opposing drivers in determining population change in macaroni penguins Eudyptes chrysolophus

Horswill, Catharine (2015) The relative importance of opposing drivers in determining population change in macaroni penguins Eudyptes chrysolophus. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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It is widely recognised that both nutrient-driven processes acting from the “bottom-up” and predator-driven processes acting from the “top-down” are important drivers of population change. However, studies that examine how these joint forces influence the population dynamics of oceanic species are lacking. In the Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic ecosystem, human-mediated changes have driven biological change at both ends of the food chain; rapid regional warming at the bottom and heavy exploitation of apex predator populations at the top. Consequently, many populations of marine predators have rapidly changed in size over the last 50-years. Unravelling the effects of bottom-up and top-down forcing on these open ocean ecosystems, has thus been highlighted as an immediate priority for polar scientists. The overall aims of this study were to use demographic, environmental and diet data to unravel the processes that contributed to a population of macaroni penguins at South Georgia declining rapidly between 1985 and 2012. I use mark–recapture modelling to examine the survival rates of macaroni penguins. Over 10 years, birds were marked with subcutaneous electronic transponder tags and re-encountered using an automated gateway system fitted at the entrance to the colony. These findings were combined with a 28-year time series of population counts and productivity measurements in an age-structured state-space population model to disentangle the processes underlying the observed population decline. Finally, I combined stable isotope analysis and tracking data to investigate the individual strategies macaroni penguins might employ to mitigate the effects of density-dependence during the breeding season. Macaroni penguins at South Georgia declined at 6% per year between 1985 and 2000, stabilising thereafter. This study indicates that the population declined in response to recruitment rates being lower than adult mortality. This trend was potentially accelerated by three large mortality events that were possibly associated with top-down predation pressure from giant petrels. Survival rates were low and variable during the fledging year, increasing to much higher levels from age 1 onwards. Year-to-year variability in demographic rates was induced by a combination of individual quality, top-down predation pressure and bottom-up environmental forces. The relative importance of these covariates on survival rates was age-specific, whereby predation pressure had a considerably greater effect during the fledgling year compared with birds older than 1-year. The population trajectory stabilised after 2000 in response to an increase in survival, as well as density-dependent feedbacks upon productivity. In order to minimise the effects of density-dependence during the breeding season and optimise daily energy expenditure, macaroni penguins appeared to make distinct dietary choices that remained highly consistent from year-to-year. Individually specialised foraging strategies occurred in response to seasonal variations in foraging range, conspecific density and prey availability at the foraging sites. The future stability of this population will depend on the carrying capacity of the environment supporting productivity rates at their present level, and the population size and breeding success of giant petrels not increasing so that adult survival rates can remain stable. More broadly, this study highlights the importance of considering multiple causal effects across different life-stages when examining the demography of seabirds, and demonstrates the additional insights that can be gained by using models with increased precision.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Chapter 3 is published: Survival in macaroni penguins and the relative importance of different drivers: individual traits, predation pressure and environmental variability. Journal of Animal Ecology. 2014;83(5):1057-1067.
Keywords: bottom-up, breeding success, competition, density-dependence, demography, diet,El Nino/Southern Oscillation, fledging mass, seabird, penguin, intrinsic factors, predation, population ecology, sea surface temperature, southern annular mode, stable isotope analysis, top-down
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history > QH301 Biology
Q Science > QL Zoology
Colleges/Schools: College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
Supervisor's Name: Matthiopoulos, Professor Jason, Ratcliffe, Dr. Norman and Green, Dr. Jonathan
Date of Award: 2015
Depositing User: Miss Catharine Horswill
Unique ID: glathesis:2015-5979
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 Feb 2015 11:36
Last Modified: 25 Feb 2015 14:13

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