27 June 2014

Finding elusive emperor penguins

Eastern emperor penguin
colony near Mertz Glacier
Photo credit: Robin Cristofari,
ANTARCTICA - Field surveys and satellites complement each other when studying remote penguin populations, according to research recently published in PLoS ONE by André Ancel from the CNRS in Strasbourg, France, and colleagues.

Emperor penguins living on Antarctica's ice sheets must face moving, breaking and shifting ice. Accurate monitoring of population trends is critical to understanding the ongoing rapid changes in Antarctic ecosystems. But scientists can find such assessments difficult because of Antarctica's remoteness and the logistical complexity of operating on the continent, especially during winter. 

22 June 2014

"Unexpected": emperor penguins may be willing to relocate

Emperor penguins
Photo credit: Michelle LaRue,
University of Minnesota
ANTARCTICA – The discovery of emperor penguin colony movement challenges the long-standing theory that this species returns to the same area each year to nest.

A new study led by the University of Minnesota offers new insights on the long-term future of emperor penguins by showing that the penguins may be behaving in ways that allow them to adapt to their changing environment better than we expected.

15 June 2014

Charting the rise and fall of Antarctica's prehistoric penguin populations

Adelie penguins.
Photo credit: Dr Tom Hart.
ANTARCTICA - A study of how penguin populations have changed over the last 30,000 years has shown that between the last ice age and up to around 1,000 years ago penguin populations benefitted from climate warming and retreating ice. This suggests that recent declines in penguins may be because ice is now retreating too far or too fast.

An international team, led by scientists from the University of Southampton and the University of Oxford in the UK and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in the USA, has used a genetic technique to estimate when current genetic diversity arose in penguins and to recreate past population sizes.

Juan the macaroni penguin tries the African penguin lifestyle

Photo credit: Living Coasts
UNITED KINGDOM - A penguin at Living Coasts in Torquay is turning the natural order of things inside out. Macaroni penguin Juan has chosen to nest in a way usually reserved for African penguins - a species that he wouldn't be likely to meet in the wild.

First-time parents 17-year-old Juan and his partner, 7-year-old Pebbles, have rejected the company of the other macaroni penguins on their rocky beach, preferring instead to breed down a hole, alongside scores of African penguins.

Declining penguin numbers on Marion Island most likely due to rising sea temperatures

SUB-ANTARCTIC - Numbers of penguins and other seabirds on sub-Antarctic Marion Island are declining, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) researchers have found.

An NMMU team returned from the island in May after a five-week research trip. Marion Island, situated in the Indian Ocean, is a part of South Africa. It is a breeding location for southern rockhopper, macaroni, gentoo and king penguins.

Over the last 20 years, the island's southern rockhopper penguins have decreased by 70% and macaroni and gentoo penguins by 30%. There are currently 40,000 breeding pairs of rockhopper penguins, 290,000 breeding pairs of macaroni penguins, and only 900 breeding pairs of gentoo penguins on Marion Island.

07 June 2014

Ralph Penguin: Coldwater Specialist

Ralph and his O'Neill wetsuit.
Photo credit: Marwell Wildlife
UK - Ralph the Humboldt penguin, international star and Marwell Wildlife resident, has been given a trendy new wetsuit for a second consecutive year thanks to Californian (human) wetsuit brand O'Neill.

During his annual moult, Ralph loses his feathers quicker than other penguins, leaving him exposed to the elements. For the past six years he has worn a wetsuit when he starts to lose his feathers to protect him from the sun and keep him warm on colder evenings. 

02 June 2014

Climate change and penguin physiology

Adelie penguins
Photo credit: Charles Sturt University
ANTARCTICA - What can penguin physiology tell us about how these birds are affected by climate change? As part of a multi-national team studying Adélie penguins, ecologist Dr Melanie Massaro from Charles Sturt University in New South Wales, Australia, is finding out the answers to that question.

Dr Massaro's research trip to Cape Crozier on Ross Island in January this year was her 12th visit to Antarctica. She started as a lecturing scientist on Antarctic cruise ships, before making her first journey as a researcher in 2007. Since 2009, she has been part of a team that includes researchers from the USA, New Zealand and France studying Adélie penguins in the southern Ross Sea.