John & Pat Warham Studentship | 2020

Postgraduate studies of Sphenisciform and Procellariiform seabirds

Foraging behavior of King Penguins under extreme climatic events

The BOU is pleased to announce that Émile Brisson-Curadeau has been appointed as our third Studentship. Émile will be based at McGill University, Quebec, Canada with supervisor Dr Kyle Elliott and travel for field work to the CNRS in Chize and the Kerguelen Islands (Antarctica) with Dr Charles-Andre Bost.

Project details

Extreme climatic events such as El Niño have strong effects on Antarctic Ocean wildlife, effecting changes in the distribution and abundance of the primary producers that reverberate to the top of the food chain. Monitoring effects on top predators could therefore provide information on the density and distribution of a range of prey, especially if their foraging behaviour and population dynamics are good indicators of the population dynamics of lower trophic levels. The king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) is a good candidate for being an indicator species in the Antarctic Ocean: it is a top predator with a circumpolar distribution, and can dive up to 300 m to forage, coming in contact with various prey types. My research consists of examining how the consequences of climatic extremes on the food web affect the breeding success and foraging behaviour of king penguins. I will use 20 years of foraging and breeding data to investigate 1) whether the foraging behaviour of king penguins (diving depth, foraging location) changes during extreme climatic events, and 2) whether reduced prey availability during these events affect the population dynamics of the bird. I predict that king penguins will have to dive deeper and further south in extreme climatic years, as the increase in sea surface temperature will push prey in the colder and deeper southern waters. Furthermore, low prey densities will cause a decrease in breeding success, leading to long-term population decline for the penguin. My research will determine the mechanisms between extreme climatic events, wildlife distribution and fitness, which will help in the design of protected areas that consider the spatial responses of predator-prey relationships to these events.

Read Émil’s project update

BOU John & Pat Warham Studentships are funded by a bequest left to the BOU by the late John and Pat Warham for the study of of Sphenisciform and Procellariiform seabirds by a students from Commonwealth countries. Four fully-funded studentships are available and it is envisaged that one studentship will be awarded per year from 2018.

View 2018 project
View 2019 project

Image Credits
King Penguin | Ben Tubby | CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

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