Reproductive performance of little penguins Eudyptula minor in relation to year, age, pair-bond duration, breeding date and individual quality


  • Ian C. T. Nisbet,

  • Peter Dann

I. C. T. Nisbet (correspondence), I. C. T. Nisbet & Co., 150 Alder Lane, North Falmouth, MA 02556, USA. E-mail: – P. Dann, Res. Dept., Phillip Island Nature Park, P.O. Box 97, Cowes, Phillip Island 3922, Victoria, Australia.


We measured breeding performance of little penguins Eudyptula minor at Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia, during a 21-year period. All birds considered in this paper (n=307) were of known age (2–22 y) and sex, and most were of known, or closely-estimated, pair-bond status (1–8 mates per bird; pair-bond durations 1–13 y). Breeding dates and breeding performance varied markedly from year to year; measures of annual performance were not associated with early breeding. Measures of individual breeding performance (clutch-size, hatching success, chick masses and productivity) were related to early laying, parental age, and duration of pair-bond. Dependence of breeding performance on parental age was curvilinear, levelling off at about 8 y of age. Productivity declined significantly among birds older than 8 y; this decline was not due to events in the last year of breeding (“terminal illness”). Breeding performance increased with duration of pair-bond at least through y 5. Early breeding was significantly related to age and duration of pair-bond. Most of these relationships were stronger among males than among females, and many of them were not significant when females were considered alone. After controlling for other factors, breeding performance varied significantly among birds, but autocorrelations were low and limited to intervals of one year. Parental quality (defined for birds studied in six or more years as the individual bird term in a GLM for productivity controlling for other factors) was not correlated with lifespan or other demographic parameters, but high-quality birds were less prone to change mates and burrows than low-quality birds. We know of no previous study in which simultaneous effects of laying date, age and pair-bond duration on breeding performance were measured, while controlling for year, individual quality and terminal illness.