Chick growth and survival in gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua): effect of hatching asynchrony and variation in food supply
In the gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua, we examined the effects of intra-clutch egg size differences and hatching asynchrony on differential chick growth and survival (including post-fledging survival), in five years for which indices of food supply were available. An initial size hierarchy within-broods at hatching was due to hatching asynchrony not intra-clutch egg size differences. In 1988 only (a ‘poor’ food year), the weight advantage gained by the first-hatched (A) chick persisted to the end of brooding (30 days), with more second-hatched (B) chicks dying. There was no difference between A- and B-chick weights at fledging (60 days) or in overall chick survival between synchronous and asynchronous broods in any year. Postfledging survival (measured in one year) was not related to fledging weight or hatching order. These results provide only partial support for the hypothesis that gentoo penguins operate a brood reduction strategy to optimise chick survival in years of low food availability. We suggest that hatching asynchrony in gentoo penguins may result from selection to keep the first egg warm as soon as it is laid, due to extreme low ambient temperatures.