An individual-based model is developed to examine mechanisms that potentially underlie the observed constancy in fledging weight (2.8-3.2 kg) of Adélie (Pygoscelis adeliae) penguin chicks, in spite of large variability in the abundance of Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), the primary food source. The model describes the energetic requirements of the chick, with growth resulting from the difference between assimilated energy and respiration. Parameterizations of these metabolic processes are based upon experimental and field observations. Ingestion of Antarctic krill by the chick is dependent on the frequency of food delivery to the chick by the adults, which is based on measured foraging times. The mass, size, and size frequency distribution of Antarctic krill fed to the chick are specified using empirical data. The energy content of the Antarctic krill provided to the chick is taken to be constant or allowed to vary with size. The simulations show that food availability is most critical in the latter portion of chick development, when growth rates and food demands are high. Low food availability during this time must be compensated by either feeding chicks with larger krill of higher caloric value or by increased assimilation efficiency. Periods when small krill with lower caloric value dominate require more frequent feeding of the chicks in order to attain their observed fledging weight. Thus, although the total food energy given to the chick is the main factor determining chick growth, the distribution of food availability relative to chick size (i.e., different net growth rates) and food quality are also factors influencing the fledging weight of penguin chicks. The simulations provide insight into the compensating effects of food delivery, food quality, and metabolic processes that allow Adélie penguin chicks to reach their observed fledging weight in spite of considerable environmental variability in food supply.
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