Time-lapse cameras reveal latitude and season influence
breeding phenology durations in penguins
Variation in the phenology of avian taxa has long been studied to understand how a species reacts to environmental changes over both space and time. Penguins (Sphenicidae) serve as an important example of how biotic and abiotic factors influence certain stages of seabird phenology because of their large ranges and the extreme, dynamic conditions present in their Southern Ocean habitats. Here, we examined the phenology of gentoo (Pygoscelis papua) and chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica) at 17 sites across the Scotia arc, including the first documented monitoring of phenology on the South Sandwich Islands, to determine which breeding phases are intrinsic, or rather vary across a species range and between years. We used a novel method to measure seabird breeding phenology and egg and chick survival: time‐lapse cameras. Contrary to the long‐standing theory that these phases are consistent between colonies, we found that latitude and season had a predominant influence on the length of the nest establishment, incubation, and guard durations. We observe a trend toward longer incubation times occurring farther south, where ambient temperatures are colder, which may indicate that exposure to cold slows embryo growth. Across species, in colonies located farther south, parents abandoned nests later when eggs were lost or chicks died and the latest record of eggs or chicks in the nest occurred earlier during the breeding period. The variation in both space and time observed in penguin phenology provides evidence that the duration of phases within the annual cycle of birds is not fundamental, or genetic, as previously understood. Additionally, the recorded phenology dates should inform field researchers on the best timing to count colonies at the peak of breeding, which is poorly understood.