Although there is increasing evidence that climatic variations during the non-breeding season shape population dynamics of seabirds, most aspects of their winter distribution and ecology remain essentially unknown. We used stable isotope signatures in feathers to infer and compare the moulting (wintering) habitat of subantarctic petrels breeding at two distant localities (South Georgia and Kerguelen). Petrels showed species-specific wintering habitat preferences, with a similar pattern of latitudinal segregation for all but one taxon. At both localities, δ13C values indicated that blue petrels (Halobaena caerulea) moult in Antarctic waters, South Georgian diving petrels (Pelecanoides georgicus) in the vicinity of the archipelagos and/or in the Polar Frontal Zone and Antarctic prions (Pachyptila desolata) in warmer waters. In contrast, common diving petrels (Pelecanoides urinatrix) showed divergent strategies, with low and high intrapopulation variation at South Georgia and Kerguelen, respectively. Birds from Kerguelen dispersed over a much wider range of habitats, from coastal to oceanic waters and from Antarctica to the subtropics, whereas those from South Georgia wintered mainly in waters around the archipelago. This study is the first to show such striking between-population heterogeneity in individual wintering strategies, which could have important implications for likely demographic responses to environmental perturbation.
Keywords: moulting period, individual specialization, procellariiform seabird, Southern Ocean, Antarctica