CIE Spotlight: Temporal variation in the diet of gentoo penguins at the Falkland Islands

Alastair B.
Alastair B.

Title: Temporal variation in the diet of gentoo penguins at the Falkland Islands

Authors: Handley, Jonathan M.; Baylis, Alastair M. M.; Brickle, Paul; Pistorius, Pierre

Source: POLAR BIOLOGY, 39 (2):283-296, FEB 2016

Brief summary of the paper: Knowledge of diet is critical in interpreting the ecological roles of marine top predators and provides information towards their conservation and management. The Falkland Islands hold the largest number of breeding gentoo penguins. Yet knowledge of gentoo penguin diet at the Falklands is limited to either broad taxonomic divisions of prey items or dietary samples collected only on a single day.

This study is the first to investigate gentoo penguin diet at Cow Bay, Falklands, to the species level, over repeated sampling intervals during the breeding period. Through stomach content analysis, we determined diet over a large temporal scale (2002/2003/2004–2011/2012/2013) and between the guard and crèche periods of chick rearing.

The principle prey item by reconstituted mass was rock cod fish Patagonotothen spp., for all periods (47–78 %) except that of the 2012/2013 crèche period (19 %) when Falkland herring Sprattus fugensis made up the bulk of the diet (52 %). Of the cephalopods recovered, Patagonian squid Doryteuthis gahi was prominent (1–24 %), while crustaceans contributed negligibly to gentoo penguin diet.

Our findings revealed that gentoo penguins breeding at the Falkland Islands were primarily demersal foragers with an ability for pelagic feeding. Diet choice appears to reflect prey availability.