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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Jul 10;104(28):11666-9. Epub 2007 Jul 9.

Abrupt recent shift in delta 13C and delta 15N values in Adélie penguin eggshell in Antarctica.

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  • 1Department of Biology and Marine Biology, University of North Carolina, 601 South College Road, Wilmington, NC 28403, USA. emslies@uncw.edu


Stable isotope values of carbon (delta13C) and nitrogen (delta15N) in blood, feathers, eggshell, and bone have been used in seabird studies since the 1980s, providing a valuable source of information on diet, foraging patterns, and migratory behavior in these birds. These techniques can also be applied to fossil material when preservation of bone and other tissues is sufficient. Excavations of abandoned Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) colonies in Antarctica often provide well preserved remains of bone, feathers, and eggshell dating from hundreds to thousands of years B.P. Herein we present an approximately 38,000-year time series of delta13C and delta15N values of Adélie penguin eggshell from abandoned colonies located in three major regions of Antarctica. Results indicate an abrupt shift to lower-trophic prey in penguin diets within the past approximately 200 years. We posit that penguins only recently began to rely on krill as a major portion of their diet, in conjunction with the removal of baleen whales and krill-eating seals during the historic whaling era. Our results support the "krill surplus" hypothesis that predicts excess krill availability in the Southern Ocean after this period of exploitation.

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