Long-term changes in population size, distribution and productivity of skuas (Stercorarius spp.) at Signy Island, South Orkney Islands
In this study, we investigate the numbers, productivity and territory distribution of the two species of skuas (brown Stercorarius lonnbergi and south polar Stercorarius maccormicki) breeding at Signy Island, South Orkneys, and compare the results with trends elsewhere. Comparison with previous counts indicates a biphasic increase in brown skuas at Signy Island; much faster from 1958/1959 to 1982/1983 (3.3 % per annum), than in subsequent years (0.4 % per annum from 1983/1984 to 2013/2014). Relative distribution of territories has changed little over time. The reduced rate of population growth in recent years was broadly coincident with a decrease in numbers of penguins (and therefore potential prey), which may also explain recent reductions in skua numbers at other Antarctic sites. As prey have become limiting, breeding success of brown skuas at Signy Island is now slightly lower than in the 1950s/early 1960s, but timing of breeding does not appear to have changed. Brown skuas at Signy Island may still have enough resources to start breeding, but as the season progresses and availability of resources declines, chick survival is reduced. South polar skuas have declined from ten pairs in 1982/1983 to one pair in 2013/2014, and mixed pairs have increased from one to three pairs. A review of the literature indicated that although population trend data are available for relatively few sites elsewhere in the subantarctic and Antarctic, numbers of brown skuas appear to be generally decreasing or stable, and of south polar skuas to be stable or increasing.
Authors: Carneiro, Ana P.B., Manica, Andrea, Phillips, Richard A.