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Concept: Magellanic Penguin


Climate change is causing more frequent and intense storms, and climate models predict this trend will continue, potentially affecting wildlife populations. Since 1960 the number of days with >20 mm of rain increased near Punta Tombo, Argentina. Between 1983 and 2010 we followed 3496 known-age Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) chicks at Punta Tombo to determine how weather impacted their survival. In two years, rain was the most common cause of death killing 50% and 43% of chicks. In 26 years starvation killed the most chicks. Starvation and predation were present in all years. Chicks died in storms in 13 of 28 years and in 16 of 233 storms. Storm mortality was additive; there was no relationship between the number of chicks killed in storms and the numbers that starved (P = 0.75) or that were eaten (P = 0.39). However, when more chicks died in storms, fewer chicks fledged (P = 0.05, R (2) = 0.14). More chicks died when rainfall was higher and air temperature lower. Most chicks died from storms when they were 9-23 days old; the oldest chick killed in a storm was 41 days old. Storms with heavier rainfall killed older chicks as well as more chicks. Chicks up to 70 days old were killed by heat. Burrow nests mitigated storm mortality (N = 1063). The age span of chicks in the colony at any given time increased because the synchrony of egg laying decreased since 1983, lengthening the time when chicks are vulnerable to storms. Climate change that increases the frequency and intensity of storms results in more reproductive failure of Magellanic penguins, a pattern likely to apply to many species breeding in the region. Climate variability has already lowered reproductive success of Magellanic penguins and is likely undermining the resilience of many other species.

Concepts: Precipitation, Climate, Weather, Climate change, Penguin, Penguins, Magellanic Penguin, Punta Tombo


The African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is a highly social and vocal seabird. However, currently available descriptions of the vocal repertoire of African Penguin are mostly limited to basic descriptions of calls. Here we provide, for the first time, a detailed description of the vocal behaviour of this species by collecting audio and video recordings from a large captive colony. We combine visual examinations of spectrograms with spectral and temporal acoustic analyses to determine vocal categories. Moreover, we used a principal component analysis, followed by signal classification with a discriminant function analysis, for statistical validation of the vocalisation types. In addition, we identified the behavioural contexts in which calls were uttered. The results show that four basic vocalisations can be found in the vocal repertoire of adult African Penguin, namely a contact call emitted by isolated birds, an agonistic call used in aggressive interactions, an ecstatic display song uttered by single birds, and a mutual display song vocalised by pairs, at their nests. Moreover, we identified two distinct vocalisations interpreted as begging calls by nesting chicks (begging peep) and unweaned juveniles (begging moan). Finally, we discussed the importance of specific acoustic parameters in classifying calls and the possible use of the source-filter theory of vocal production to study penguin vocalisations.

Concepts: Bird, Principal component analysis, Seabird, Penguins, Flightless birds, Magellanic Penguin, Humboldt Penguin, Spheniscus


The African penguin is a nesting seabird endemic to southern Africa. In penguins of the genus Spheniscus vocalisations are important for social recognition. However, it is not clear which acoustic features of calls can encode individual identity information. We recorded contact calls and ecstatic display songs of 12 adult birds from a captive colony. For each vocalisation, we measured 31 spectral and temporal acoustic parameters related to both source and filter components of calls. For each parameter, we calculated the Potential of Individual Coding (PIC). The acoustic parameters showing PIC ≥ 1.1 were used to perform a stepwise cross-validated discriminant function analysis (DFA). The DFA correctly classified 66.1% of the contact calls and 62.5% of display songs to the correct individual. The DFA also resulted in the further selection of 10 acoustic features for contact calls and 9 for display songs that were important for vocal individuality. Our results suggest that studying the anatomical constraints that influence nesting penguin vocalisations from a source-filter perspective, can lead to a much better understanding of the acoustic cues of individuality contained in their calls. This approach could be further extended to study and understand vocal communication in other bird species.

Concepts: Bird, Seabird, Madagascar, Penguin, Penguins, Magellanic Penguin, Humboldt Penguin, Spheniscus


Penguins are major consumers in the southern oceans although quantification of this has been problematic. One suggestion proposes the use of points of inflection in diving profiles (‘wiggles’) for this, a method that has been validated for the estimation of prey consumption by Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) by Simeone and Wilson (2003). Following them, we used wiggles from 31 depth logger-equipped Magellanic penguins foraging from four Patagonian colonies; Punta Norte (PN), Bahía Bustamente (BB), Puerto Deseado (PD) and Puerto San Julián (PSJ), all located in Argentina between 42-49° S, to estimate the prey captured and calculate the catch per unit time (CPUT) for birds foraging during the early chick-rearing period. Numbers of prey caught and CPUT were significantly different between colonies. Birds from PD caught the highest number of prey per foraging trip, with CPUT values of 68±19 prey per hour underwater (almost two times greater than for the three remaining colonies). We modeled consumption from these data and calculate that the world Magellanic penguin population consumes about 2 million tons of prey per year. Possible errors in this calculation are discussed. Despite this, the analysis of wiggles seems a powerful and simple tool to begin to quantify prey consumption by Magellanic penguins, allowing comparison between different breeding sites. The total number of wiggles and/or CPUT do not reflect, by themselves, the availability of food for each colony, as the number of prey consumed by foraging trip is strongly associated with the energy content and wet mass of each colony-specific ‘prey type’. Individuals consuming more profitable prey could be optimizing the time spent underwater, thereby optimizing the energy expenditure associated with the dives.

Concepts: Mathematics, Penguin, Patagonia, Penguins, Magellanic Penguin, Falkland Islands, Humboldt Penguin, Spheniscus


Seismic surveys in search for oil or gas under the seabed, produce the most intense man-made ocean noise with known impacts on invertebrates, fish and marine mammals. No evidence to date exists, however, about potential impacts on seabirds. Penguins may be expected to be particularly affected by loud underwater sounds, due to their largely aquatic existence. This study investigated the behavioural response of breeding endangered African Penguins Spheniscus demersus to seismic surveys within 100 km of their colony in South Africa, using a multi-year GPS tracking dataset. Penguins showed a strong avoidance of their preferred foraging areas during seismic activities, foraging significantly further from the survey vessel when in operation, while increasing their overall foraging effort. The birds reverted to normal behaviour when the operation ceased, although longer-term repercussions on hearing capacities cannot be precluded. The rapid industrialization of the oceans has increased levels of underwater anthropogenic noises globally, a growing concern for a wide range of taxa, now also including seabirds. African penguin numbers have decreased by 70% in the last 10 years, a strong motivation for precautionary management decisions, including the exclusion of seismic exploratory activities within at least 100 km of their breeding colonies.

Concepts: Bird, Behavior, Human behavior, Penguin, Ocean, Penguins, Magellanic Penguin, African Penguin


Trophically-transmitted parasites are regularly exposed to potential new hosts through food web interactions. Successful colonization, or switching, to novel hosts, occur readily when ‘donor’ and ‘target’ hosts are phylogenetically related, whereas switching between distantly related hosts is rare and may result from stochastic factors (i.e. rare favourable mutations). This study investigates a host-switching event between a marine acanthocephalan specific to pinnipeds that is apparently able to reproduce in Magellanic penguins Spheniscus magellanicus from Brazil. Detailed analysis of morphological and morphometrical data from acanthocephalans from penguins indicates that they belong to Corynosoma australe Johnston, 1937. Partial fragments of the 28S rRNA and mitochondrial cox1 genes were amplified from isolates from penguins and two pinniped species (i.e. South American sea lion Otaria flavescens and South American fur seal Arctocephalus australis) to confirm this identification. Infection parameters clearly differ between penguins and the two pinniped species, which were significantly lower in S. magellanicus. The sex ratio of C. australe also differed between penguins and pinnipeds; in S. magellanicus was strongly biased against males, while in pinnipeds it was close to 1:1. Females of C. australe from O. flavescens were smaller than those from S. magellanicus and A. australis. However, fecundity (i.e. the proportion of fully developed eggs) was lower and more variable in females collected from S. magellanicus. At first glance, the occurrence of reproductive individuals of C. australe in Magellanic penguins could be interpreted as an adaptive colonization of a novel avian host through favourable mutations. However, it could also be considered, perhaps more likely, as an example of ecological fitting through the use of a plesimorphic (host) resource, since the ancestors of Corynosoma infected aquatic birds.

Concepts: Penguin, Pinniped, Sea lion, Fur seals and sea lions, Fur seal, Arctocephalus, Magellanic Penguin, South American Sea Lion


Gaze following is widespread among animals. However, the corresponding ultimate functions may vary substantially. Thus, it is important to study previously understudied (or less studied) species to develop a better understanding of the ecological contexts that foster certain cognitive traits. Penguins (Family Spheniscidae), despite their wide interspecies ecological variation, have previously not been considered for cross-species comparisons. Penguin behaviour and communication have been investigated over the last decades, but less is known on how groups are structured, social hierarchies are established, and coordination for hunting and predator avoidance may occur. In this article, we investigated how African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) respond to gaze cues of conspecifics using a naturalistic setup in a zoo environment. Our results provide evidence that members of the family Spheniscidae follow gaze of conspecifics into distant space. However, further tests are necessary to examine if the observed behaviour serves solely one specific function (e.g. predator detection) or is displayed in a broader context (e.g. eavesdropping on relevant stimuli in the environment). In addition, our findings can serve as a starting point for future cross-species comparisons with other members of the penguin family, to further explore the role of aerial predation and social structure on gaze following in social species. Overall, we also suggest that zoo-housed animals represent an ideal opportunity to extend species range and to test phylogenetic families that have not been in the focus of animal cognitive research.

Concepts: Biology, Predation, Ecology, Structure, Sociology, Penguin, Penguins, Magellanic Penguin


The vulnerability of seabirds related to their migratory dynamics is frequently linked to environmental problems along the migration path. In this context, Magellanic penguins (Sphenicus magellanicus) seem to be vulnerable to an extensive range of environmental disturbances during their northward migration along the Atlantic waters of South America, which include by catch, marine debris ingestion, overfishing and environmental contamination. In this study, we investigate mercury accumulation in muscle and hepatic tissues of juveniles penguins collected along the Brazilian coast during three migratory seasonal years (2006, 2008 and 2012) and three areas along a latitudinal gradient. We found significant differences in Hg levels across the years, with higher hepatic Hg levels found in tissues of penguins sampled in 2008. The higher Hg levels in samples of penguins from 2008 might be attributed to variations in body condition or Hg uptake, associated with the trophic imbalance linked to an extreme El Niño event during that year. Significant differences in Hg accumulation across the latitudinal areas were also observed. The penguins sampled at the farthest area from the breeding ground presented the higher levels of Hg and also the poorest body condition. Body condition and other traits may influence the levels of chemical pollutants and decrease the migratory success rate in the juvenile age phase, compromising population dynamics.

Concepts: Africa, Environment, Atlantic Ocean, Pollution, Brazil, Ocean, Environmentalism, Magellanic Penguin


The Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) is native to Argentina, Chile and the Falkland/Malvinas islands and is a regular winter migrant in Uruguayan and Brazilian coastal waters. The species is known to be susceptible to a variety of gastrointestinal nematodes, cestodes, trematodes and acanthocephalans, as well as renal trematodes and pulmonary nematodes. Schistosomes (Platyhelminthes, Trematoda, Schistosomatidae) and microfilariae (Nematoda, Secernentea, Onchocercidae) were histologically identified in Magellanic Penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) that died while under care at rehabilitation centers in southern Brazil. Phylogenetic analysis of the COI gene, ITS-1 region, 5.8 S rRNA gene, ITS-2 region and 28S rRNA gene sequences of the schistosome revealed that it is closely related to, but distinct from a schistosome reported from the African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus). The schistosomes from Magellanic and African Penguins were grouped with Gigantobilharzia huronensis, Gigantobilharzia melanoidis and Dendritobilharzia pulvurenta; however, the lack of a clearly monophyletic origin precludes determining their genus. The incidental discovery of novel parasites during a study that did not specifically aim to investigate the occurrence of helminths underscores the value of histopathological examination as an exploratory diagnostic approach.

Concepts: Schistosoma, Digenea, Brazil, Flatworm, Penguins, Magellanic Penguin, Humboldt Penguin, African Penguin


Food provisioning is considered one of the main traits affecting offspring fitness. Differences in food provisioning between sexes, particularly in dimorphic species, could affect the amount and type of food provided, due to differences in the amount of food carried to the nest as a result of differential resources exploitation. Quantitative evidence for sexual differences in food provisioning by parents in penguins is scarce. The Magellanic penguin is moderately sexually dimorphic and breeds along a broad latitudinal range, with birds north and south of this range being essentially dietary specialists while those at intermediate latitudes consuming a more diverse diet.

Concepts: Sexual intercourse, Evolution, Nutrition, Sexual dimorphism, Bird, Seabird, Penguin, Magellanic Penguin