Research Summary: Effects of Individual Pre-Fledging Traits and Environmental Conditions on Return Patterns in Juvenile King Penguins


Despite the importance of early life stages in individuals’ life history and population dynamics, very few studies have focused on the constraints to which these juvenile traits are subjected. Based on 10 years of automatic monitoring of over 2500 individuals, we present the first study on the effects of environmental conditions and individual pre-fledging traits on the post-fledging return of non-banded king penguins to their natal colony. Juvenile king penguins returned exclusively within one of the three austral summers following their departure. A key finding is that return rates (range 68–87%) were much higher than previously assumed for this species, importantly meaning that juvenile survival is very close to that of adults. Such high figures suggest little juvenile dispersal, and selection occurring mostly prior to fledging in king penguins. Pre-fledging conditions had a strong quadratic impact on juvenile return rates. As expected, cohorts reared under very unfavourable years (as inferred by the breeding success of the colony) exhibited low return rates but surprisingly, so did those fledged under very favourable conditions. Juvenile sojourns away from the colony were shorter under warm conditions and subsequent return rates higher, suggesting a positive effect of climate warming. The longer the post-fledging trip (1, 2 or 3 years), the earlier in the summer birds returned to their natal colony and the longer they stayed before leaving for the winter journey. The presence of juveniles in the colony was more than twice the duration required for moulting purposes, yet none attempted breeding in the year of their first return. Juvenile presence in the colony may be important for acquiring knowledge on the social and physical colonial environment and may play an important part in the learning process of mating behaviour. Further studies are required to investigate its potential implications on other life-history traits such as recruitment age.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 8-June-2011

Author(s): Saraux C., Viblanc V., Hanuise N., Le Maho Y., Le Bohec C.


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