While dramatic increases in populations of King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) have been documented throughout their range, population changes on the island of South Georgia have not been assessed. We reconstructed time series of population size for six major colonies across South Georgia using historical data stretching back to 1883 and new population estimates derived from direct on-the-ground censuses and oblique, high-resolution digital photographs. We find evidence for a significant increase in the population of King Penguins at all colonies examined over the 124 years of available survey data. We discuss our findings in the context of four established hypotheses explaining King Penguin population growth: (1) favorable changes in the pelagic food web; (2) climate forcing; (3) greater availability of breeding habitat; and (4) the cessation of harvesting. While we do find evidence that glacial retreat may have increased suitable breeding habitat at some colonies and facilitated population expansion, glacial retreat is not associated with all of South Georgia’s growing populations. Local anomalies in sea surface temperature have increased in parallel with King Penguin population growth rate, suggesting that climate forcing may contribute to colony growth, but a complete explanation for the island’s rapidly growing King Penguin population remains unclear.
Polar Biology – Springer Journals
Published: Feb 9, 2018
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