Antarctic Adelie Penguin Populations Are Growing With New Colonies
July 10, 2014

Antarctic Adelie Penguin Populations Are Growing With New Colonies

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The near-threatened Adélie penguin population has started to recover, as scientists conducting the first-ever global census of the creatures claim that the number of breeding pairs is over 50 percent higher than previously believed.

Writing in the July 9 edition of The Auk: Orinthological Advances, researchers from Stony Brook University and University of Minnesota said that the number of these native Antarctic birds is 3.79 million breeding pairs or 53 percent larger than past estimates had indicated.

According to the researchers, the amount of Adélie penguins living in the region has long been viewed as a key indicator species in order to monitor and understand the impact of climate change and fishing in the Southern Ocean. Thanks to high-resolution satellite imagery, the study authors were able to use a new method to regularly monitor the birds across their entire breeding range, as well as the overall well-being of the ecosystem they call home.

“Ecologists have been tracking Adélie penguin population declines on the Antarctic Peninsula for decades but have found conflicting trends elsewhere in their breeding range,” the University of Minnesota explained in a statement Wednesday. The new study, however, “finally puts all of these scattered pieces of information into a global perspective.”

The newly-published paper, which was authored by Stony Brook University assistant professor of Ecology & Evolution Heather Lynch and University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering conservation biologist Michelle LaRue, reported that Adélie populations appeared to be growing on a global scale.

They were able to identify the colonies, as well as discover 17 new previously unknown colonies, using satellite imagery to study and detect special traits in the birds’ excrement. Their findings could serve to help educate both policy makers and the scientific community regarding the impact of climate change in Marine Protected Areas.

“We believe this is a landmark study with data that provides not only information on the population dynamics of Adélie penguins but injects critically needed information into the ongoing negotiations regarding the implementation of Marine Protected Areas in the Southern Ocean,” explained Lynch.

“We now have an important population baseline for Adélie penguins,” added LaRue. “Our methods also allow for annual, regional-scale comparisons of population trends that can more precisely inform us about ecosystem health and subsequent sustainability and conservation measures.”

In recent years, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has debated establishing a series of Marine Protected Areas around Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands. Lynch said that Adélie penguins are a species in need of conservation protection efforts, and that the amount and distribution of the creatures throughout the world also reflect upon the distribution of their marine prey, including fish and krill.

“Our finding of a 53 percent increase in Adélie penguin breeding abundance compared to 20 years ago suggests that estimates of krill consumption by this species may be seriously underestimated,” she noted. “Leaving enough prey for natural krill predators is an important element in ensuring fisheries proceed sustainably, and for the first time we have a global map of Adélie abundance that can be used by CCAMLR.”

In addition, their global census revealed that high-resolution satellite imagery can be used in order to obtain real-time data about the populations and distribution of penguins, and that the increase in the species’ population is somewhat evenly distributed between growth in known colonies and the first population estimates of newly discovered ones.

“Stable or growing populations of Adélie penguins in Eastern Antarctica and the Ross Sea more than offset the rapid declines witnessed on the Antarctic Peninsula, where climate change has significantly changed the timing and decreased the extent of sea ice,” the university said. “The researchers discovered 17 previously unknown Adélie colonies. The survey did not find 13 previously known colonies, eight of which were declared extirpated.”


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