Intercolony variation in reproductive skipping in the African penguin mark-recapture data

  • Freddie Leith (Creator)
  • Barbara Barham (Creator)
  • Peter Barham (Creator)
  • Katrin Ludynia (Creator)
  • Cuan McGeorge (Creator)
  • Andile Mdluli (Creator)
  • Nola Parsons (Creator)
  • Lauren P. Waller (Creator)
  • Jennifer Grigg (Creator)
  • Richard Sherley (Creator)



In long-lived species, reproductive skipping is a common strategy whereby sexually mature animals skip a breeding season, potentially reducing population growth. This may be an adaptive decision to protect survival or a non-adaptive decision driven by individual-specific constraints. Understanding the presence and drivers of reproductive skipping behaviour can be important for effective population management, yet in many species such as the endangered African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), these factors remain unknown. This study uses multistate mark-recapture methods to estimate African penguin survival and breeding probabilities at two colonies between 2013 and 2020. Overall, survival (mean ± SE) was higher at Stony Point (0.82 ± 0.01) than Robben Island (0.77 ± 0.02). Inter-colony differences were linked to food availability; under decreasing sardine (Sardinops sagax) abundance, survival decreased at Robben Island and increased at Stony Point. Additionally, reproductive skipping was evident across both colonies; at Robben Island, the probability of a breeder becoming a nonbreeder was ~0.22, versus ~0.1 at Stony Point. Penguins skipping reproduction had a lower probability of future breeding than breeding individuals; this lack of adaptive benefit suggests reproductive skipping is driven by individual-specific constraints. Lower survival and breeding propensity at Robben Island places this colony in greater need of conservation action. However, further research on the drivers of inter-colony differences is needed.
Date made available22 Aug 2022

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