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Sherley R.B.,University of Cape Town | Barham P.J.,University of Cape Town | Barham P.J.,University of Bristol | Barham B.J.,Penguin Datasystems | And 6 more authors.
Population Ecology | Year: 2014

Colonial breeding is characteristic of seabirds but nesting at high density has both advantages and disadvantages and may reduce survival and fecundity. African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) initiated breeding at Robben Island, South Africa in 1983. The breeding population on the island increased in the late 1990s and early 2000s before decreasing rapidly until 2010. Before the number breeding peaked, local nest density in the areas where the colony was initiated plateaued, suggesting that preferred nests sites were mostly occupied, and the area used by breeding birds expanded. However, it did not contract again as the population decreased, so that nesting density varied substantially. Breeding success was related positively to the prey available to the breeding birds and negatively to local nest density, particularly during the chick-rearing period, suggesting a density-dependence operating through social interactions in the colony, possibly exacerbated by poor prey availability when the breeding population was large. Although nest density at Robben Island was not high, nesting burrows, which probably reduce the incidence of aggressive encounters in the colony, are scarce and our results suggest that habitat alteration has modified the strength of density-dependent relationships for African penguins. Gaining a better understanding of how density dependence affects fecundity and population growth rates in colonial breeders is important for informing conservation management of the African penguin and other threatened taxa. © 2013 The Society of Population Ecology and Springer Japan. Source


Sherley R.B.,University of Bristol | Sherley R.B.,University of Cape Town | Barham B.J.,Penguin Datasystems | Barham P.J.,University of Cape Town | And 3 more authors.
Emu | Year: 2012

Loss of nesting habitat threatens many cavity nesting birds worldwide and has contributed to the decline of several species of burrow-nesting seabirds. Replacing lost habitat with artificial nesting structures is considered to be a useful conservation intervention. Here we report on an investigation into the effectiveness of such a strategy providing artificial nests for the endangered African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) at a colony on Robben Island, South Africa. The re-colonisation of Robben Island by breeding African Penguins in the 1980s was partly attributed to the availability of shaded nesting habitat under introduced vegetation. However, the suitability of this habitat had not been tested empirically. In addition, artificial nests have been present at Robben Island since 2001, but whether they were a viable means of providing improved nesting habitat was not known. The reproductive output of African Penguins was monitored on Robben Island from 2001 to 2010. Breeding success varied between years but, overall, was within the range of figures previously reported for the species. Relative to pairs in nests under vegetation, birds occupying artificial nests and nests in abandoned buildings had increased nesting survival during chick-rearing, with 9 and 13% more chicks fledged per egg hatched over the study period. These artificial structures seem to offer the advantages of shelter from the weather and protection from predators, without the risks of collapse associated with natural burrows in non-guano substrates. This study supports findings from Namibia, and also supports the continued use of artificial nests as a conservation tool throughout the range of the species. © 2012 BirdLife Australia. Source


Crawford R.J.M.,Oceans and Coasts | Crawford R.J.M.,University of Cape Town | Altwegg R.,University of Cape Town | Altwegg R.,South African National Biodiversity Institute | And 14 more authors.
African Journal of Marine Science | Year: 2011

The number of African penguins Spheniscus demersus breeding in South Africa collapsed from about 56 000 pairs in 2001 to some 21 000 pairs in 2009, a loss of 35 000 pairs (>60%) in eight years. This reduced the global population to 26 000 pairs, when including Namibian breeders, and led to classification of the species as Endangered. In South Africa, penguins breed in two regions, the Western Cape and Algoa Bay (Eastern Cape), their breeding localities in these regions being separated by c. 600 km. Their main food is anchovy Engraulis encrasicolus and sardine Sardinops sagax, which are also the target of purse-seine fisheries. In Algoa Bay, numbers of African penguins halved from 21 000 pairs in 2001 to 10 000 pairs in 2003. In the Western Cape, numbers decreased from a mean of 35 000 pairs in 2001-2005 to 11 000 pairs in 2009. At Dassen Island, the annual survival rate of adult penguins decreased from 0.70 in 2002/2003 to 0.46 in 2006/2007; at Robben Island it decreased from 0.77 to 0.55 in the same period. In both the Western and Eastern Cape provinces, long-term trends in numbers of penguins breeding were significantly related to the combined biomass of anchovy and sardine off South Africa. However, recent decreases in the Western Cape were greater than expected given a continuing high abundance of anchovy. In this province, there was a south-east displacement of prey around 2000, which led to a mismatch in the distributions of prey and the western breeding localities of penguins. © NISC (Pty) Ltd. Source


Sherley R.B.,Marine Research Institute | Sherley R.B.,University of Bristol | Underhill L.G.,Marine Research Institute | Underhill L.G.,University of Cape Town | And 8 more authors.
Marine Ecology Progress Series | Year: 2013

Population trends of African penguins Spheniscus demersus in the Western Cape, South Africa, and their breeding success have been linked to the abundance of their main prey, sardine Sardinops sagax and anchovy Engraulis encrasicolus. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, both fish species increased markedly in abundance, but after 2004, sardine biomass decreased to below average levels. In addition, adults of both stocks were principally located to the east of Cape Agulhas from 2001 to 2009 and were thus distant from seabird colonies on South Africa's West Coast. The number of African penguin pairs counted at Robben Island from 2001 to 2009 and the fledging period of chicks from successful nests increased and decreased in apparent response to the biomass of sardine prior to each breeding season, possibly linked through adult condition at the onset of breeding. Breeding success and chick-fledging rates increased during the study period and showed positive relationships with local food availability, indexed through the annual industrial catch of anchovy made within 56 km (30 nautical miles) of the colony. In addition, chick-fledging rates were depressed in 2-chick broods during years when anchovy contributed <75% by mass to the diet of breeding birds. Previously reported relationships between the overall abundance of forage fish in South Africa and penguin breeding success were not supported. Taken together, these results highlight the combined importance of ensuring adequate local food availability for seabirds during the reproductive cycle and safeguarding regional prey abundance during the non-breeding season. © Inter-Research 2013. Source


Distiller G.,University of Cape Town | Altwegg R.,South African National Biodiversity Institute | Altwegg R.,University of Cape Town | Crawford R.J.M.,Private Bag X2 | And 2 more authors.
Marine Ecology Progress Series | Year: 2012

Marine systems are under pressure from both climate change and exploitation. While many of these ecosystems are inherently variable and hard to monitor, seabirds can be used as ecological indicators that provide early warning signals of deeper environmental change. The Agulhas-Benguela marine ecosystem around southern Africa has exhibited long-term changes in sea surface temperature, and the distribution of pelagic fish in this system has shifted. The Cape gannet Morus capensis is a seabird endemic as a breeding species to the Agulhas-Benguela ecosystem. Cape gannets breed at just 6 locations and are listed by the IUCN as Vulnerable. Knowledge of the survival and movements of a species is important for understanding of factors influencing its conservation. A random effects multistate capture-recapture model was used to estimate the annual survival probabilities and movement between colonies for adult birds at the 3 South African colonies of the species. The effects on survival of environmental and fisheries-related covariates were explored. Survival over the 20 yr period did not exhibit any long-term trend at the 2 southern colonies (Malgas and Bird Islands) but decreased at Lambert's Bay between 1996 and 2007. At all 3 colonies, adult birds showed a high degree of site fidelity. It may be that for Cape gannets, the primary effects of climate and fishing are on recruitment rather than on survival. The continued use of sub-optimal conditions by the west coast colonies has been referred to as an 'ecological trap' and necessitates the introduction of spatial considerations into fisheries management. © Inter-Research 2012 · www.int-res.com. Source

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