Early View (EV): 1-EV
2003 on Pétrels Island before the 2013/2014 season was ca
30% in 2001 (Jenouvrier et al. 2006). Zero – or near zero –
breeding success years have been reported on other high
latitude species, like in black-browed albatrosses alassarche
melanophris in the Sub Antarctic (Xavier et al. 2003, and
papers cited therein) but they remain rare events. Similarly,
such events for Adélie penguins have been recorded occa-
sionally in other regions of the Antarctic continent (e.g. at
Béchervaise Island, Irvine et al. 2000) but the causes for
these events appear to be diverse according to the study site
and season considered.
e year 2013 saw the greatest sea-ice extent around
the Antarctic continent since 1979 (ca 19.5 million km2
in 2013 for an 18.0–19.4 million km2 range between
1979–2012, NOAA: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/
IOTD/view.php?id=82160 ), which was also observed
in the Adélie Land region (IFREMER: wwz.ifremer.
fr/institut ). Monthly data from the Dumont d’Urville
meteorolo gical station ( www.antarctica.ac.uk/met
/READER/ ) showed that autumn and winter 2013
were among the coldest since recording started in 1956
(Supplementary material, Appendix 1). However, the
trend reversed completely in August 2013 so that air
temperatures in spring and summer became warmer
than usual. Perhaps more importantly, the wind direc-
tion was predominantly and unusually blowing from the
east throughout the year and wind strength was low at
the start of the breeding season. Normally, strong kata-
batic winds blow from the continent towards the north
in this region, helping to push the sea ice away from the
coast (Adolphs and Wendler 1995) and create access to
open water, usually polynyas, which is critical to penguin
breeding success (Massom et al. 1998).
us, in the 2013/2014 season penguins suﬀered
from two contrasting plagues: an extensive sea-ice cover
that forced them to walk more often on compact ice,
hampering their eﬀorts to forage for themselves and their
Ecography 37: 001–003, 2014
© 2014 e Authors. Ecography © 2014 Nordic Society Oikos
Subject Editor: Eric Post. Editor-in-Chief: Miguel Araújo. Accepted 21 August 2014
Among the outcomes of the drastic changes aﬀecting
the Earth’s ecosystems, nothing is more telling than a
complete failure in the reproductive success of a senti-
nel species: a ‘zero’ year. Here, we found that unusual
environmental conditions in the Terre Adélie sector of
Antarctica disrupted the breeding activity of Adélie pen-
guins Pygoscelis adeliae on land – but also their foraging
activity at sea – to such a degree that no chicks survived
in the 2013/2014 breeding season. Uncommonly heavy
precipitation for this normally dry desert killed chicks
en masse, while weak katabatic winds maintained a
persistent sea ice around the colony, thereby impacting
chick provisioning by adults. Extreme events such as this
have direct repercussions for the species in question, and
may also aﬀect the wider sea-ice dependent food web.
Understanding the nature, frequency, and consequences
of such events are central to the management and conser-
vation of this remote yet crucial ecosystem.
Adélie penguins are one of the most important predators
in Antarctic sea-ice ecosystems, totalling up to 3.79 million
pairs (Lynch and LaRue 2014). eir foraging and breeding
ecology is highly related to the status of the sea ice (Ainley
2002), and increasing (Ross Sea, Smith et al. 1999) or
decreasing (Antarctic Peninsula, Wilson et al. 2001) popula-
tion trends have been related to winter sea-ice conditions or
occurrence of polynia in the vicinity of colonies. While the
populations in the Terre Adélie sector of east Antarctica are
generally increasing, the colony of ca 34 000 Adélie penguins
from Pétrels Island (66°40′S, 140°01′E) has experienced a
complete breeding failure for the ﬁrst time since the early
monitoring began in the 1950s. Not a single chick on this
island survived the summer, despite a 55% hatching success
(relative to e.g. a 77% hatching success and a total of 0.65
chicks per breeding pair in 2012/2013, Centre d’Etudes
Biologiques de Chizé unpubl.). To put this into perspec-
tive, the lowest breeding success recorded between 1992 and
A complete breeding failure in an Adélie penguin colony correlates
with unusual and extreme environmental events
Yan Ropert-Coudert, Akiko Kato, Xavier Meyer, Marie Pellé, Andrew J. J. MacIntosh,
Frédéric Angelier, Olivier Chastel, Michel Widmann, Ben Arthur, Ben Raymond and Thierry Raclot
Y. Ropert-Coudert (firstname.lastname@example.org), A. Kato, X. Meyer, M. Pellé, M. Widmann and T. Raclot, CNRS and Univ. de Strasbourg,
UMR7178, IPHC, 23 rue Becquerel, FR-67087 Strasbourg, France. – A. J. J. MacIntosh, Center for International Collaboration and Advanced
Studies in Primatology, Kyoto Univ. Primate Research Inst., Kanrin 41-2, Inuyama, Aichi, 484–8506, Japan. – F. Angelier and O. Chastel,
Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, FR-79360 Villiers-en-Bois, France. – B. Arthur and B. Raymond, Inst. for Marine and Antarctic Studies,
Univ. of Tasmania, Hobart 7001, Australia. BR also at: Australian Antarctic Division, Dept of the Environment, Australian Government,
Channel Highway, Kingston 7050, Australia.
Figure 1. Daily temperature (average, maximum and minimum in red and pink lines, respectively) and snow/rainy episodes (open and
ﬁlled red circles, respectively) at Dumont d’Urville during the 2013/2014 breeding season show a progressive deterioration of the weather
around the turn of the year that culminated into intensive rainfall on 31 December and 1 January. Average temperature evolution over
1981–2010 is shown in grey for comparison. Finally, cumulative Adélie penguin hatching success (dotted black line) and chick mortality
(solid black line) are also indicated.
chicks, and a warm and wet summer with alternating periods
of snowfall and especially rain – an extremely rare feature
in east Antarctica (Fig. 1). GPS devices (Cottin et al. 2012)
attached to chick-rearing birds revealed that the extreme
sea-ice extent aﬀected foraging behaviour and success in a
variety of ways. Penguins were forced to travel twice the dis-
tance they covered in the previous season (217.5 56.1 km,
n 35 birds in 2013/2014; 117.7 73.0 km, n 38 birds
in 2012/2013, student t-test t –6.91, p 0.001). Adults
started their foraging trips with a lower body mass (4.0 0.4
kg, n 40 birds in 2013/2014; 4.3 0.5 kg, n 42 birds in
2012/2013, t 3.0, p 0.004) and they also spent longer
at sea (5.3 3.3 d, n 41 birds in 2013/2014; 3.3 3.7
d, n 43 birds in 2012/2013, t –2.60, p 0.011). As a
result, the chicks were not adequately provisioned and ema-
ciated chicks were a common sight throughout the summer.
Yet, extensive sea-ice cover was perhaps the lesser of two
evils: relatively warm temperatures in the summer provoked
unprecedented rainy episodes and snowmelt. Small chicks
are covered with a downy plumage that has little – if any –
waterprooﬁng ability (Duchamp et al. 2002). With unusual
rain in this normally dry and cold desert, the chicks’ thermo-
regulation capacities weakened rapidly and the rainy episode
that took place just around the turn of the year led to the
death of 49% of the chicks in the colony we monitored (Fig.
1). e rest of the chicks were taken by starvation, additional
precipitation and predators/scavengers.
is complete breeding failure was a result of multiple
factors: several temporal and spatial scales need to be consid-
ered to understand its ramiﬁcations. is clearly highlights
the need to monitor the breeding and foraging activity of
polar species both on land and at sea simultaneously. What
ecophysiological mechanisms are triggered in response to
such a catastrophic year, especially at the hormonal level
where the endocrine responses to stressors are known to
aﬀect foraging performances and/or parental care? Although
a zero year has relatively little immediate impact on the
survival of long-lived species, we can wonder how population
dynamics may be aﬀected by the absence of an entire cohort
over the long term? What will be the long-term eﬀects on
other species and trophic levels of the regional ecosystem?
Extreme events like those reported here are indeed likely to
have direct repercussions on other levels of the sea-ice depen-
dent food web. ese fundamental questions echo those
voiced at the 1st Horizon Scan (Kennicutt et al. 2014) of the
Scientiﬁc Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR). ese
are research priorities for SCAR, as well as for the Antarctic
Treaty Consultative Meetings and the Commission for the
Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, espe-
cially since predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change announce the coming of an era with
more frequent extreme events (IPCC 2007). In this context,
the recent breakdown of a giant iceberg in Antarctica and
the resultant havoc it created for the ecosystem (Lescroël
et al. 2014), the increasing frequency of storms and rain-
fall (Dee Boersma and Rebstock 2014), or the extreme event
reported here bode ominously for the future of these remote
and fragile ecosystems.
Acknowledgements – is project was supported by the French
Polar Inst. (IPEV, prog. 1091, YR-C, and partly prog. 109, H.
Weimerskirch), the WWF and the zone atelier Antarctique at
CNRS. e meteorological team of TA64 at Dumont d’Urville,
especially D. Lacoste, gave us access to a wealth of data. M. Bruecker,
N. Chatelain and F. Crenner at the IPHC customized the GPS
devices used in this study. e study was authorized by IPEV and
the Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises through the Arrêté
no. 2013-79 from the 29 October 2013.
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Supplementary material (Appendix ECOG-01182 at
www.ecography.org/readers/appendix ). Appendix 1.