Conservation of the Rockhopper Penguin

(Eudyptes chrysocome)

by Nicolás Lois & Bettina Mahler

The Rockhopper Penguin, Eudyptes chrysocome (Forster, 1781), is an abundant species of Sphenisciformes with a sub-Antarctic distribution. Populations of this species are globally declining at an alarming pace, which is why IUCN classifies this species as “Vulnerable”. The main putative cause is the heterogeneous impact of global change on marine ecosystems, which combined with their ability to travel long distances makes it difficult to predict how these changes might affect their populations.

Adult rockhopper penguin near reproductive colony (N. Lois).

In collaboration with the Laboratory of Ecology and Wildlife Conservation in Ushuaia (CADIC – CONICET, Advisors: Dra. Andrea Raya Rey and Dra. Bettina Mahler), we will study the population genetic structure of Rockhopper penguins in the South Atlantic Ocean on the Patagonian Shelf at three different levels:
1. between the populations on three different islands;
2. between the two colonies on  Estados Island, San Juan del Salvamento and Franklin Bay; and
3. between nesting patches within Franklin Bay.

We will assess the geographical characteristics of nesting sites and the diet and foraging behavior of individuals to evaluate its potential impact on the observed genetic pattern. Furthermore, nesting site fidelity and dispersion levels between and within populations will be determined, identifying gender differences in these behaviors.
The utmost aim of this project is the identification of management units and the consequent design of effective conservation measures for this endangered penguin species in Argentina.


Fieldwork

Field campaigns take place every summer from November to February, only time when the species stays in land. The study will be conducted in the breeding colonies of the species in Argentina: Franklin Bay and San Juan del Salvamento (both on Estados Island), Pingüino Island (near Puerto Deseado, Santa Cruz), and on the Falklands (Malvinas) Islands.

 Caleta Lacroix, Estados Island (Ulises Balza).

 

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