[Show abstract][Hide abstract]ABSTRACT: Investigating wild animals while minimizing human disturbance remains an important methodological challenge. When approached by a remote-operated vehicle (rover) which can be equipped to make radio-frequency identifications, wild penguins had significantly lower and shorter stress responses (determined by heart rate and behavior) than when approached by humans. Upon immobilization, the rover-unlike humans-did not disorganize colony structure, and stress rapidly ceased. Thus, rovers can reduce human disturbance of wild animals and the resulting scientific bias.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract]ABSTRACT: Because glucocorticoid (stress) hormones fundamentally affect various aspects of the behaviour, life history and fitness of free-living vertebrates, there is a need to understand the environmental factors shaping their variation in natural populations. Here, we examined whether spatial heterogeneity in breeding territory quality affected the stress of colonial king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus). We assessed the effects of local climate (wind, sun and ambient temperature) and social conditions (number of neighbours, distance to neighbours) on the baseline levels of plasma total corticosterone (CORT) in 77 incubating and 42 chick-brooding birds, breeding on territories of central or peripheral colony location. We also assessed the oxidative stress status of a sub-sample of central vs. peripheral chick-brooders to determine whether chronic stress arose from breeding on specific territories. On average, we found that brooders had 55 % higher CORT levels than incubators. Regardless of breeding status, central birds experienced greater social density (higher number of neighbours, shorter distance between territories) and had higher CORT levels than peripheral birds. Increasing social density positively explained 40 % of the variation in CORT levels of both incubators and brooders, but the effect was more pronounced in brooders. In contrast, climate was similar among breeding territories and did not significantly affect the CORT levels of breeding birds. In brooders, oxidative stress status was not affected by local density or weather conditions. These results highlight that local heterogeneity in breeding (including social) conditions may strongly affect the stress levels of breeding seabirds. The fitness consequences of such variation remain to be investigated.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract]ABSTRACT: For seabirds that forage at sea but breed fasting on land, successful reproduction depends on the effective management of energy stores. Additionally, breeding often means aggregating in dense colonies where social stress may affect energy budgets.King penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) males fast for remarkably long periods (up to 1.5 months) while courting and incubating ashore. Although their fasting capacities have been well investigated in captivity, we still known very little on the energetics of freely breeding birds.We monitored the heart rate (HR; a proxy to energy expenditure), body temperature, and physical activity of male king penguins during their courtship and first incubation shift in a colony of some 24,000 freely breeding pairs. Males were either breeding under low but increasing colony density (early breeders), or at high and stable density (late breeders).In early breeders, daily mean and resting HR decreased during courtship but increased again 3 days before egg-laying and during incubation. In late breeders, HR remained stable throughout this same breeding period. Interestingly, the daily increase in resting HR we observed in early breeders was strongly associated with a marked increase in colony density over time. This finding remained significant even after controlling for climate effects.In both early and late breeders, courtship and incubation were associated with a progressive decrease in physical activity, whereas core body temperature remained unchanged.We discuss the roles of decreased physical activity and thermoregulatory strategies in sustaining the long courtship-incubation fast of male king penguins. We also draw attention to a potential role for conspecific density in affecting the energetics of breeding fasting seabirds, i.e. a potential energy cost to coloniality This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Full-text · Article · Nov 2013 · Functional Ecology
[Show abstract][Hide abstract]ABSTRACT: Despite the enormous amount of data available on the importance of the gastrointestinal (GI) microbiota in vertebrate (especially mammals), information on the GI microbiota of seabirds remains incomplete. As with many seabirds, penguins have a unique digestive physiology that enables them to store large reserves of adipose tissue, protein, and lipids. This study used quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and 16S rRNA gene pyrosequencing to characterize the interspecific variations of the GI microbiota of four penguin species: the king, gentoo, macaroni, and little penguin. The qPCR results indicated that there were significant differences in the abundance of the major phyla Firmicutes, Bacteroides, Actinobacteria, and Proteobacteria. A total of 132,340, 18,336, 6324, and 4826 near full-length 16S rRNA gene sequences were amplified from fecal samples collected from king, gentoo, macaroni, and little penguins, respectively. A total of 13 phyla were identified with Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Proteobacteria, and Fusobacteria dominating the composition; however, there were major differences in the relative abundance of the phyla. In addition, this study documented the presence of known human pathogens, such as Campylobacter, Helicobacter, Prevotella, Veillonella, Erysipelotrichaceae, Neisseria, and Mycoplasma. However, their role in disease in penguins remains unknown. To our knowledge, this is the first study to provide an in-depth investigation of the GI microbiota of penguins.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract]ABSTRACT: In colonial breeders, agonistic interactions between conspecifics are frequent and may have significant physiological implications. Physiological responses (e.g., increased heart rate) to such social stressors may be determined by the potential costs of agonistic interactions, such as personal injury or risk of breeding failure, and by the motivation of the individuals concerned. The latter may vary according to individuals' reproductive status or willingness to engage in agonistic interactions. In this study, we investigated heart rate responses to aggressive interactions in a breeding colony of king penguins Aptenodytes patagonicus. From heart rate (HR) and behavior recorded in 20 adults at various stages of the breeding season, we investigated how king penguins reacted to aggressive neighbors. A total of 589 agonistic interactions, 223 in which birds were actors and 366 in which birds remained bystanders (i.e., witnesses that were not involved in interactions), were characterized. We found that HR increased during agonistic interactions, both in actors and bystanders. The intensity (threat displays or physical attacks), duration, and rate of aggressive events (number of threats/blows per unit time) of an interaction significantly influenced the HR response in actors. For bystanders, however, only the duration of interactions seemed to matter. Our results also suggest a role for individual motivation, as initiators of agonistic interactions displayed higher HR increases than responders, and as increases were not constant throughout the reproductive season. We conclude that individual risk assessment and motivation modulate physiological responses to social stressors in group-living animals.
Full-text · Article · Nov 2012 · Behavioral Ecology
[Show abstract][Hide abstract]ABSTRACT: Body mass and body condition are often tightly linked to animal health and fitness in the wild and thus are key measures for ecophysiologists and behavioral ecologists. In some animals, such as large seabird species, obtaining indexes of structural size is relatively easy, whereas measuring body mass under specific field circumstances may be more of a challenge. Here, we suggest an alternative, easily measurable, and reliable surrogate of body mass in field studies, that is, body girth. Using 234 free-living king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) at various stages of molt and breeding, we measured body girth under the flippers, body mass, and bill and flipper length. We found that body girth was strongly and positively related to body mass in both molting ( ) and breeding ( ) birds, with the mean error around our predictions being 6.4%. Body girth appeared to be a reliable proxy measure of body mass because the relationship did not vary according to year and experimenter, bird sex, or stage within breeding groups. Body girth was, however, a weak proxy of body mass in birds at the end of molt, probably because most of those birds had reached a critical depletion of energy stores. Body condition indexes established from ordinary least squares regressions of either body girth or body mass on structural size were highly correlated ( ), suggesting that body girth was as good as body mass in establishing body condition indexes in king penguins. Body girth may prove a useful proxy to body mass for estimating body condition in field investigations and could likely provide similar information in other penguins and large animals that may be complicated to weigh in the wild.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract]ABSTRACT: Body mass and body condition are often tightly linked to animal health and fitness in the wild and thus are key measures for ecophysiologists and behavioral ecologists. In some animals, such as large seabird species, obtaining indexes of structural size is relatively easy, whereas measuring body mass under specific field circumstances may be more of a challenge. Here, we suggest an alternative, easily measurable, and reliable surrogate of body mass in field studies, that is, body girth. Using 234 free-living king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) at various stages of molt and breeding, we measured body girth under the flippers, body mass, and bill and flipper length. We found that body girth was strongly and positively related to body mass in both molting (R(2) = 0.91) and breeding (R(2) = 0.73) birds, with the mean error around our predictions being 6.4%. Body girth appeared to be a reliable proxy measure of body mass because the relationship did not vary according to year and experimenter, bird sex, or stage within breeding groups. Body girth was, however, a weak proxy of body mass in birds at the end of molt, probably because most of those birds had reached a critical depletion of energy stores. Body condition indexes established from ordinary least squares regressions of either body girth or body mass on structural size were highly correlated (r(s) = 0.91), suggesting that body girth was as good as body mass in establishing body condition indexes in king penguins. Body girth may prove a useful proxy to body mass for estimating body condition in field investigations and could likely provide similar information in other penguins and large animals that may be complicated to weigh in the wild.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract]ABSTRACT: Background
A central question for ecologists is the extent to which anthropogenic disturbances (e.g. tourism) might impact wildlife and affect the systems under study. From a research perspective, identifying the effects of human disturbance caused by research-related activities is crucial in order to understand and account for potential biases and derive appropriate conclusions from the data.
Here, we document a case of biological adjustment to chronic human disturbance in a colonial seabird, the king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus), breeding on remote and protected islands of the Southern ocean. Using heart rate (HR) as a measure of the stress response, we show that, in a colony with areas exposed to the continuous presence of humans (including scientists) for over 50 years, penguins have adjusted to human disturbance and habituated to certain, but not all, types of stressors. When compared to birds breeding in relatively undisturbed areas, birds in areas of high chronic human disturbance were found to exhibit attenuated HR responses to acute anthropogenic stressors of low-intensity (i.e. sounds or human approaches) to which they had been subjected intensely over the years. However, such attenuation was not apparent for high-intensity stressors (i.e. captures for scientific research) which only a few individuals experience each year.
Habituation to anthropogenic sounds/approaches could be an adaptation to deal with chronic innocuous stressors, and beneficial from a research perspective. Alternately, whether penguins have actually habituated to anthropogenic disturbances over time or whether human presence has driven the directional selection of human-tolerant phenotypes, remains an open question with profound ecological and conservation implications, and emphasizes the need for more knowledge on the effects of human disturbance on long-term studied populations.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract]ABSTRACT: Phospholipid (PL) compositions and fatty acid (FA) patterns of PL were determined in the erythrocytes and blood thrombocytes
of a seabird, the king penguin, living in the subantarctic area and feeding on prey rich in n−3 polyunsaturated FA. Results
were compared between birds in three different physiological states (breeding and molting adults, chicks) to those reported
for other birds. In erythrocytes, the ratios of cholesterol to PL and of sphingomyelin to phosphatidylcholine (PC) were lower
than in other birds. The PL distribution was similar to those previously reported in the hen and pigeon. In contrast to other
birds, cardiolipin levels were unexpectedly high (4%). Very long chain n−3 FA were abundant (13–27%) in phosphatidylethanolamine
(PE), phosphatidylserine and PC, probably in relation to the natural diet of these birds. Among n−3 FA, 22∶6n−3 was the most
abundant in all PL (2−20%), whereas the highest levels of arachidonic acid were observed in PE (14%). In thrombocytes, the
PL distribution and FA composition of the main PL (PC, PE) differed from those of erythrocytes, and in particular, levels
of n−3 FA (9–12%) were 1.5–2 times lower. The highest levels of arachidonic acid were found in phosphatidylinositol (24%).
The lipid profile of penguin erythrocytes could contribute to the efficiency of blood circulation and oxygen delivery in microvascular
beds, thus favoring diving capacity of these animals. Our observations do not support the hypothesis of a common origin of
avian thrombocytes and erythrocytes.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract]ABSTRACT: Surviving prolonged fasting implies closely regulated alterations in fuel provisioning to meet metabolic requirements, while preserving homeostasis. Little is known, however, of the endocrine regulations governing such metabolic adaptations in naturally fasting free-ranging animals. The hormonal responses to natural prolonged fasting and how they correlate to the metabolic adaptations observed, were investigated in subantarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus tropicalis) pups, which, because of the intermittent pattern of maternal attendance, repeatedly endure exceptionally long fasting episodes throughout their development (1-3 mo). Phase I fasting was characterized by a dramatic decrease in plasma insulin, glucagon, leptin, and total l-thyroxine (T(4)) associated with reductions in mass-specific resting metabolic rate (RMR), plasma triglycerides, glycerol, and urea-to-creatine ratio, while nonesterified fatty acids (NEFA) and β-OHB increased. In contrast, the metabolic steady-state of phase II fasting reached within 6 days was associated with minimal concentrations of insulin, glucagon, and leptin; unchanged cortisol and triiodothyronine (T(3)); and moderately increased T(4). The early fall in insulin and leptin may mediate the shift to the strategy of energy conservation, protein sparing, and primary reliance on body lipids observed in response to the cessation of feeding. In contrast to the typical mammalian starvation response, nonelevated cortisol and minimal glucagon levels may contribute to body protein preservation and downregulation of catabolic pathways, in general. Furthermore, thyroid hormones may be involved in a process of energy conservation, independent of pups' nutritional state. These original hormonal settings might reflect an adaptation to the otariid repeated fasting pattern and emphasize the crucial importance of a tight physiological control over metabolism to survive extreme energetic constraints.
Full-text · Article · Feb 2012 · AJP Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
[Show abstract][Hide abstract]ABSTRACT: A drop in body temperature allows significant energy savings in endotherms, but facultative heterothermy is usually restricted to small animals. Here we report that king penguin chicks (Aptenodytes patagonicus), which are able to fast for up to 5 months in winter, undergo marked seasonal heterothermy during this period of general food scarcity and slow-down of growth. They also experience short-term heterothermy below 20 °C in the lower abdomen during the intense (re)feeding period in spring, induced by cold meals and adverse weather. The heterothermic response involves reductions in peripheral temperature, reductions in thermal core volume and temporal abandonment of high core temperature. Among climate variables, air temperature and wind speed show the strongest effect on body temperature, but their effect size depends on physiological state. The observed heterothermy is remarkable for such a large bird (10 kg before fasting), which may account for its unrivalled fasting capacity among birds.
Full-text · Article · Aug 2011 · Nature Communications