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Longitudinal studies focusing on lifetime reproductive success (LRS) have been used to measure individual breeding performance and identify commonalities among successful breeders. By extending the focus to subsequent generations we identify a proportion of high-quality individuals that contribute disproportionately to the population over multiple generations. We used 23 years of yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) breeding data from one breeding area to identify the proportion of individual birds that raised successful breeders, which in turn raised offspring that bred successfully. We explored which life-history components influenced lifetime reproductive success, as this knowledge would enable conservation resources to be focused on high-performing individuals in this endangered population. From 2147 birds marked as chicks, 370 (17.2%) survived to adulthood and recruited to their natal location, of which 219 (10.2%) fledged offspring: 124 (56.6%) of the 219 birds produced offspring that recruited as breeders. Only 102 birds (4.8% of 2147) fledged first-generation offspring that in turn fledged offspring (second-generation offspring, or grand-offspring). We found that c. 26% of the birds that survived to breed had above-average LRS as well as above-average numbers of grand-offspring, and were more likely to have produced first-generation chicks that recruited and also produced above-average numbers of second-generation chicks. Our findings suggest that there is a core of “super-breeders” that contribute disproportionately to the population over successive generations. Lifespan and age-at-first-breeding were correlated with LRS. We suggest that traits of birds relating to longevity, health (e.g. immunocompetence) and fitness could be examined to identify potential links with high LRS and inter-generational fecundity. “Super-breeders” appear to consistently balance high LRS with long- life-span in a stochastic environment, demonstrating greater resilience in the face of extreme events.
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