Detecting and predicting how populations respond to environmental variability are eminent challenges in conservation research and management. This is particularly true for wildlife populations at high latitudes, many of which demonstrate changes in population dynamics associated with global warming. The Falkland Islands (Southwest Atlantic) hold one of the largest Gentoo Penguin Pygoscelis papua populations in the world, representing c. 34% of the global population. The numbers of breeding Gentoo Penguins at the Falkland Islands have shown a high degree of inter-annual variability since monitoring commenced in 1990. However, proximate causes of annual variability in breeding numbers have not been explored. Here we examine 21years of Gentoo Penguin breeding surveys from the Falkland Islands and assess whether inter-annual variability in the number of breeding pairs were correlated with proxies of environmental variability. There was a positive correlation between the number of breeding pairs and a broad-scale climatic variation index, the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI). In turn, the SOI was significantly correlated with spring sea surface temperature anomalies, indicating a more immediate atmospherically forced response to El Niño Southern Oscillation variability in the Southwest Atlantic than previously reported. However, we also describe a non-linear response to environmental variability that may highlight foraging plasticity and/or the complexity of regional ecosystem interactions that operate across a range of different scales.
- Climate change
- El Niño Southern Oscillation
- Generalized additive mixed models
- Population trends
- South Atlantic