No signs of Gentoo recovery in Conservation seabird summary
In this week’s Penguin News Falklands Conservation examine their Seabird Summary for the 2019/20 season
THE Falkland Islands is a seabird hotspot, surrounded by a rich marine environment, it supports 22 breeding species (including five penguins and one albatross) totalling to over several millions of individual seabirds.
The Falkland Islands Seabird Monitoring Programme (FISMP) is carried out each year at a number of monitoring sites to capture the trends of the seabird populations. The programme, now more than 30 years of age, is led by Falklands Conservation, supported by the Falkland Islands Government and many landowners, and involves a heap of enthusiastic volunteers helping in the field.
Here we summarise how well the seabirds fared in the season 2019/20.
The Falklands accounts for the largest concentration of the Gentoo Penguin global population. The long-term trend for the species shows significant fluctuations, seen as peaks and troughs, on a roughly decadal scale. From 2016-2019 the population has been in a notably ‘dip phase’ following a 30 percent decrease in breeding numbers since 2015. The reduced numbers, linked to probable food shortages during 2016 and corresponding to a strong oceanographic variation (a ‘super’ El Niño event), showed no signs of recovery in 2019. The good news was chick numbers were on the whole good with an average of 1 chick/pair (or 50 % as gentoo penguins lay two eggs). A small number of gentoo chicks were reported as starving in several colonies in the north; likely caused by localised shortages of food towards the end of the season in February.
For Southern Rockhopper Penguins the Falklands also account for the largest global concentrations. There was very little change in breeding pair numbers between 2016—2019, and, like the Gentoos, remained 28 percent below the 2015 value and no signs of a recovery following the significant drop during 2016.
The long-term trend of colonies monitored since 1993 show large-scale fluctuations with the trend currently in a ‘dip’ phase. In 2019 the average breeding success was 0.47 chicks/pair (this is nearly one chick for every two pairs breeding out of a possible of 4 chicks); this value remained below the long-term annual average of 0.63 chicks/pair for the fifth consecutive year. Southern Rockhopper Penguins, typically only raise one chick per season, unless food is so abundant they can manage to rear two. A strong storm in late January hit some of the breeding colonies, reducing Rockhopper Penguin chick survival even further.
The Falkland Islands support over a million individual Black-browed Albatrosses, the largest global site is at Steeple Jason where parts of the colonies are annually monitored. Taking into account annual fluctuations, the overall FISMP trend suggested a relatively stable to increasing trend from 2005 to 2019. A recent island-wide census of Black-browed Albatrosses conducted in 2017 (soon to be published) also indicated a population increase between 2010 and 2017 at many of the other breeding sites in the Falklands. The overall chick success in 2019 at Steeple Jason was 32 percent, or one chick raised for every three breeding pairs (albatrosses only lay one egg per year), and remained below the annual average (53 percent) for the fifth consecutive year.
The numbers of the large King Penguin chicks at Volunteer Point in November 2019 was 824; the highest number of chicks per season counted since the colony established itself in the 1970s.
This was a large increase of 63 percent when compared to 2018, and clearly reflected King Penguins being able to find ample prey sources over the breeding season. Although the Falklands only hold a very small portion of the global population, the long-term monitoring at Volunteer Point shows an overall upward trend in the numbers of chicks being raised each year.
The results of the FIMSP report will be presented to the Environmental Committee meeting next week. A full report can be provided upon request (email@example.com) or available to download from the Falklands Conservation website: https://falklandsconservation.com/downloads. Falklands Conservation thank all the many individuals involved with the programme.