Plasticity in the foraging behavior of male Southern Rockhopper Penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome) during incubation in the Falkland/Malvinas Islands
Environmental changes often affect the persistence of species or populations at different spatial and temporal scales. Thus, species must either adapt to these changes or experience negative impacts at the individual or population levels. Southern Rockhopper Penguins Eudyptes chrysocome are distributed throughout the Southern Ocean and have experienced substantial declines in the past which were linked to various anthropogenic and environmental factors. The aim of this study was to investigate the foraging behavior of male Southern Rockhopper Penguins at Berkeley Sound, East Falkland, Falkland/Malvinas Islands, during incubation, a period at-sea which is crucial for replenishing body condition between two extended fasting periods ashore. Thus, birds are forced to forage efficiently during that time to balance their energy demands. We linked their at-sea distribution and foraging behavior to satellite-derived sea surface temperatures and temperature-depth profiles which were recorded by devices attached to the birds. While Southern Rockhopper Penguins usually travel several hundreds of km out into the open sea on multiple-day trips during incubation, we found in our study that most birds foraged close inshore, less than 9 km away from their colony, and regularly returned to their breeding site. We propose that this behavior occurred in response to the close proximity of the 8 °C SST isotherm and the vertical stratification of the waters therein. Also, while usually feeding pelagically in open waters, there are strong indications that Southern Rockhopper Penguins performed benthic or, at least, near-bottom dives to catch their prey during these short trips. The consequences of this behavioral plasticity in response to variations in sea temperatures and inferred prey availability are discussed, especially with regard to predicted global climate change.