Sex allocation and sex‐specific parental investment in an endangered seabird

Anouk Spelt, Lorien Pichegru

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Biased offspring sex ratio is relatively rare in birds and sex allocation can vary with environmental conditions, with the larger and more costly sex, which can be either the male or female depending on species, favoured during high food availability. Sex‐specific parental investment may lead to biased mortality and, coupled with unequal production of one sex, may result in biased adult sex ratio, with potential grave consequences on population stability. The African Penguin Spheniscus demersus, endemic to southern Africa, is an endangered monogamous seabird with bi‐parental care. Female adult African Penguins are smaller, have a higher foraging effort when breeding and higher mortality compared with adult males. In 2015, a year in which environmental conditions were favourable for breeding, African Penguin chick production on Bird Island, Algoa Bay, South Africa, was skewed towards males (1.5 males to 1 female). Males also had higher growth rates and fledging mass than females, with potentially higher post‐fledging survival. Female, but not male, parents had higher foraging effort and lower body condition with increasing number of male chicks in their brood, thereby revealing flexibility in their parental strategy, but also the costs of their investment in their current brood. The combination of male‐biased chick production and higher female mortality, possibly at the juvenile stage as a result of lower parental investment in female chicks, and/or at the adult stage as a result of higher parental investment, may contribute to a biased adult sex ratio (ASR) in this species. While further research during years of contrasting food availability is needed to confirm this trend, populations with male‐skewed ASRs have higher extinction risks and conservation strategies aiming to benefit female African Penguin might need to be developed.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2016


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