Since penguins rely on the main planktonic resources of the Southern Ocean, knowledge of their diet may be used for monitoring these resources. During winter and spring of 1987 and 1989, we investigated the composition of the diet of gentoo penguins, Pygoscelis papua, in relation to changes in the availability of two prey species, Euphausia vallentini and Themisto gaudichaudii, sampled during plankton surveys in the Kerguelen Islands. The comparison between plankton surveys and diet analysis was performed on samples taken 2–4 km from the studied colonies. Data on the abundance of zooplankton derived from penguins' diet matched closely those from net hauls during a year of high plankton availability (1987). On the other hand, a weaker correspondence was found during a year of restricted availability (1989). The mean sizes of amphipods caught by penguins and net hauls were very similar but the size distribution showed comparatively fewer small and large individuals in net-hauls than in penguin stomachs. Detailed studies on the feeding range and foraging effort of penguins are therefore needed in the near future to validate the potential of penguin diet as a measure of plankton abundance.
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