Species and sexual isolating mechanisms in sibling species of giant petrels Macronectes
The two sibling species of giant petrels Macronectes halli and M. giganteus are the dominant avian scavengers in the Southern Ocean ecosystem. They breed sympatrically at a number of sub-Antarctic sites. This paper synthesises data from a detailed study at South Georgia to examine the importance of various interspecific and intersexual differences between these closely related species. Morphological, breeding, dietary, feeding and moult characteristics were investigated. The most significant interspecific differences are a six week separation in the onset of breeding and the importance of seal carrion to male M. halli, the earlier breeding species. There is a strong sexual size dimorphism with females being only 75–80% of the weight of males in both species. Intersexual dietary differences are stronger than interspecific ones and females also have later primary moult schedules. Reproductive isolation and ecological adaptations are discussed in relation to the present distribution of giant petrels, comprising a more restricted sub-Antarctic species (M. halli) and a widespread Antarctic species (M. giganteus). It is suggested that the marked sexual dimorphism evolved before the two taxa became specifically distinct.