Comparative breeding biology of the Northern Rockhopper penguin Eudyptes moseleyi on Gough and Nightingale Islands

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The Northern Rockhopper Penguin Eudyptes moseleyi is listed as Endangered due to an estimated 57% decrease in breeding numbers over the past 37 years. Approximately 85% of the global population breeds at the Tristan da Cunha archipelago (Tristan, Inaccessible and Nightingale Islands) and nearby Gough Island in the central South Atlantic Ocean. The population on Gough Island declined by 50-60% between 1982 and 2005, but in the Tristan da Cunha archipelago the population trend over the last few decades is believed to be stable despite long-term human exploitation (particularly egg collection on Nightingale Island in recent years).This study compares aspects of the breeding biology on Gough Island (where population numbers are decreasing) and Nightingale Island (where numbers are thought to be stable) based on data gathered from five colonies in the 2012/13 and 2013/4 breeding seasons. On Nightingale Island, breeding success was 6.5% lower and 40-day old chick mass 47% less(implying poor juvenile recruitment)compared to on Gough Island. Poor foraging conditions for birds on Nightingale Island is the most probable explanation for these results, and future studies should focus on the foraging locations used by birds on both islands. Additionally, egg collection practices on Nightingale Island may have had a negative impact on the population, and I recommend that the temporary ban on egg-collection at Nightingale Island is made permanent. It is also possible that the population on Gough Island is no longer in decline, or is declining for reasons unrelated to breeding success; to verify this and confirm the findings of this study, future population trends and chick fledging mass on both islands should be monitored over the long-term.

Includes bibliographical references.