Interannual variation in the breeding biology of the Antarctic prionPachyptila desolataat Bird Island, South Georgia
Interannual variation in aspects of the breeding biology of Antarctic prions was studied for three summers (1989–1992) at Bird island, South Georgia. Egg size, mass and incubation period remained constant. Laying, hatching and fledging were significantly delayed and less synchronous in 1991/92 (range of laying dates 51 days compared to 10–15 days in the two other seasons). This was due to an unusually cold and protracted winter, with ice blocking burrows into the spring, restricting availability of nest sites. Brooding lasted longer in 1991/92 but the overall fledging period was unchanged. Skeletal growth rates did not vary amongst years; growth in mass was slower in 1989/90 but fledging mass was similar in all three years. In 1989/90 and 1991/ 92 later hatched chicks grew (in mass) faster. The survival of chicks from hatching to fledging did not vary amongst years or with hatching date. Feeding frequency was similar between years, once allowance had been made for starlit nights. Thus late and asynchronous breeding in 1991/92 did not result in reduced breeding success either through predation or starvation. Crustaceans formed 98–99% of the mass of the identifiable portion of regurgitated food samples. Significant annual variation was found within these crustaceans with the presence of krill (least in 1990/91) being inversely related to that of amphipods and copepods. There was no relationship between diet composition and chick growth or survival. Other seabird species, lacking the morphological specialization for feeding on copepods and amphipods, had very low breeding success in 1990/91, when krill was scarce.