Large-scale climate and local weather drive interannual variability in Adélie penguin chick fledging mass

The fledging mass of penguin chicks can be an indicator of food availability and environmental conditions at a penguin colony. For the period 1989 to 2011, we analyzed predictor variables of environmental and food resource factors acting on multiple spatial scales near Palmer Station, Antarctica, that may influence the interannual variability in Adélie penguin chick fledging mass (CFM). To understand the influence of parental Adélie penguin diet on CFM, we modeled the energy density and krill demographics of penguin diet samples. We found a weak but significant positive relationship between the proportion of immature krill in adult penguin diets and CFM, which may indicate that krill recruitment and prey availability to adults influences CFM. However, the impact of large-scale climate and local weather outweighed the impact of parental diet characteristics on CFM. CFM was negatively associated with a positive Antarctic Oscillation (or Southern Annular Mode) and increased westerly winds and was positively associated with increased air temperature. The mechanistic relationship between climate, local weather, and CFM could include direct and indirect impacts, such as increased thermo-regulative costs for unattended chicks, decreased chick feeding frequency, and smaller meal mass for chicks driven by the geophysical transport of krill by climate and wind events.

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