Emerging evidence of resource limitation in an Antarctic seabird metapopulation after 6 decades of sustained population growth
Southwell, C and Wotherspoon, S and Emmerson, L, Emerging evidence of resource limitation in an Antarctic seabird metapopulation after 6 decades of sustained population growth, Oecologia, 196, (3) pp. 693-705. ISSN 0029-8549 (2021) [Refereed Article]
The influence of resource limitation on spatio-temporal population dynamics is a fundamental theme in ecology and the concepts of carrying capacity, density dependence and population synchrony are central to this theme. The life history characteristics of seabirds, which include use of disjunct patches of breeding habitat, high coloniality during breeding, strong philopatry, and central-place foraging, make this group well suited to studying this paradigm. Here, we investigate whether density-dependent processes are starting to limit population growth in the Adelie penguin metapopulation breeding in the Windmill Islands, East Antarctica, after 6 decades of growth. Our finding that the regional growth rate has slowed in recent decades, and that growth is slowing differentially across local populations as availability of breeding habitat and possibly food resources decrease, supports the notion of density-dependent regulation. Our observation of the first new colonisation of a breeding patch in a half-century of population growth by this highly philopatric species is further evidence for this. Given these emerging patterns of spatio-temporal population dynamics, this metapopulation may be at a point where the rate of change in density-dependent processes and rare events such as colonisations accelerates into the future, potentially providing new insights into spatio-temporal metapopulation dynamics of a long-lived species over a short time-frame. Continued long-term study of populations experiencing these circumstances provides an opportunity to expedite advances in understanding metapopulation processes. Our study highlights the importance of spatial heterogeneity and the mosaic of abiotic and biotic features of landscapes and seascapes in shaping species' metapopulation dynamics.
Adelie penguin, carrying capacity, colonisation, density dependence, population synchrony