Friday, October 28, 2016

Huge new Antarctic marine reserve created

The new Antarctic safe zone in the Ross Sea will encompass 600 thousand square miles (1.5 million square km) and be the largest marine protected area in the world.

Penguins jumps onto an ice shelf after their feeding swim. Photo by Robin Waserman, National Science Foundation, via NOAA.
Penguins jump onto an ice shelf in the Ross Sea after their feeding swim. Photo by Robin Waserman, 
National Science Foundation, via NOAA.

Working from Australia, policy makers and scientists from 24 nations and the European Union unanimously agreed on Friday (October 28, 2016) to create a marine reserve, almost as large as Alaska, in the Ross Sea off the coast of Antarctica. The agreement will take effect on December 1, 2017 and remain in effect for at least 35 years. It will be the largest marine protected area in the world.

The new Antarctic safe zone will encompass 600 thousand square miles (1.5 million square km) of ocean. Commercial fishing will be banned from about 30 percent of the area, and 28 percent will be designated as research zones, where scientists can catch limited amounts of fish and krill, tiny invertebrates that provide food for whales, penguins, seals and other animals.

The Antarctic region in and around the Ross Sea is one of the last great ocean wilderness areas on the planet, according to a NOAA webpage on the need to protect this region:
It supports one of the most productive ecosystems in the Southern Ocean, high biodiversity, and a unique assemblage of species found nowhere else on Earth. It is also one of the most studied polar regions, with some of the world’s longest time series of polar observations.
The agreement was reached at the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which comprises 24 countries including the United States and European Union.

Orcas near Ross Island in the Ross Sea. Photo by Joe Stanford, National Science Foundation, via NOAA.
Orcas near Ross Island in the Ross Sea. Photo by Joe Stanford, National Science Foundation, 
via NOAA.

Image via Smithsonian
Map via the Smithsonian
CCAMLR Executive Secretary Andrew Wright said in an October 28 statement that the decision has been several years in the making:
This has been an incredibly complex negotiation which has required a number of Member countries bringing their hopes and concerns to the table at six annual CCAMLR meetings as well as at intersessional workshops.
A number of details regarding the MPA are yet to be finalised but the establishment of the protected zone is in no doubt and we are incredibly proud to have reached this point.
Krill are the main food source for animals such as whales and penguins. Photo by Kyle Hoppe, National Science Foundation, via NOAA.
Krill are the main food source for animals such as whales and penguins. Photo by Kyle Hoppe, 
National Science Foundation, via NOAA.

A jellyfish under Ross Sea ice. Photo by Henry Kaiser, National Science Foundation, via NOAA.
A jellyfish under Ross Sea ice. Photo by Henry Kaiser, National Science Foundation, via NOAA.

Starfish on a yellow sponge in the Ross Sea. Photo by Steve Rupp, National Science Foundation, via NOAA.
Starfish on a yellow sponge in the Ross Sea. Photo by Steve Rupp, National Science Foundation,
via NOAA.

Evan Bloom, head of the United States delegation told the New York Times:
This is a major step in marine conservation not just for the Antarctic but internationally.
Part of it is the size, but the significance of this is that most of the marine protected area is a no-take area, and that involved 25 countries and complex, long-term environmental negotiations. It is one of the biggest steps for the international community.
A leopard sea in Antarctica. Photo by Peter Rejcek, National Science Foundation, via NOAA.
A leopard sea on Ross Island. Photo by Peter Rejcek, National Science Foundation, via NOAA.
\
Emperor penguins and their chicks on Ross Island, in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Photo by Paul Ponganis, National Science Foundation, via NOAA.
Emperor penguins and their chicks on Ross Island. Photo by Paul Ponganis, National Science 
Foundation, via NOAA.

Bottom line: Policy makers and scientists unanimously agreed on Friday (October 28, 2016) to create a marine reserve – the largest marine protected area in the world – in the Ross Sea off the coast of Antarctica.



Saturday, October 15, 2016

Future of Antarctic marine protected areas at risk

Date:
October 13, 2016
Source:
Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences
Summary:
Antarctica's surrounding waters are home to some of the healthiest marine ecosystems on Earth and support thriving populations of krill, seabirds, fish and whales. But efforts to establish a network of effective Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Southern Ocean are being hobbled by political infighting and demands that prioritize fishing interests over conservation by members of the international consortium tasked with conserving the region, scientists say.

Antarctica's surrounding waters are home to some of the healthiest marine ecosystems on Earth and support thriving populations of krill, seabirds, fish and whales. But efforts to establish a network of effective Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Southern Ocean are being hobbled by political infighting and demands that prioritize fishing interests over conservation by members of the international consortium tasked with conserving the region, Stanford scientists say.

The findings, published Oct. 14 in Science, come as 24 countries and the European Union convene in Hobart, Australia, next week for the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), to resume negotiations of Southern Ocean MPAs.
"Our research shows that CCAMLR's positions for and against MPAs have become entrenched," said lead author Cassandra Brooks, a PhD candidate at Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. "Negotiations have become entangled with larger global geopolitics and we see an emerging scramble for marine resources in this remote frontier."

The authors argue that as a leader in international fisheries management, CCAMLR has the opportunity to set an example for ongoing negotiations at the United Nations level to develop a legal instrument for conserving biodiversity in international waters, also known as the high seas. But if CCAMLR continues to fall short in its duties, it could set a sorry example with ramifications for marine protection in other parts of the world, said study coauthor Kristina Gjerde, senior high seas advisor at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and adjunct professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey California.

"It would send the message that fishing interests trump conservation, despite the global interests at stake," Gjerde said. "It could raise doubts that nations will be able to set aside short-term national interests to confront global ocean challenges stemming from accelerating climate change. And finally, it is doubtful that these diminished sites would count toward global goals for MPAs as they would not meet the IUCN MPA criteria."

Reverse burden of proof

Despite more than a decade of international negotiations informed by robust scientific planning, CCAMLR has failed to meet its goal of adopting a system of MPAs in the Southern Ocean to conserve biodiversity in the face of threats from climate change and potential overfishing, the authors say.

A major obstacle is agreement about the concept of "rational use," which sets the terms under which CCAMLR's member nations are allowed to fish in the Southern Ocean. The region contains some of Earth's least exploited fish stocks, and its large populations of krill -- small crustaceans that are food for the region's fish, seabirds and whales -- and toothfish have made it an increasingly prized fishing spot. Krill is valuable as fishmeal and for making health supplements, and toothfish are sold as lucrative "Chilean sea bass" around the world.

As originally defined, rational use required that fishing not cause irreversible damage to the greater marine ecosystems of the Southern Ocean and for precautionary catch limits and scientific oversight to be set in place. But as the number of CCAMLR's fishing nations has grown, and as pressure increases to secure access to current and future resources in the Southern Ocean, some nations are pushing to equate rational use with the unfettered right to fish.

Countries such as China and Russia have argued against MPA proposals that in any way restrict fishing and demand sufficient evidence to show that fishing threatens ecosystems. "MPA opponents want to reverse the burden of proof," said co-author Larry Crowder, science director of the Center for Ocean Solutions in Monterey, California, and a fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. "When rational use was first negotiated, the whole idea was that you needed data in order to fish. Now, it's being interpreted by some fishing nations as unequivocal fishing."

Sunset clauses

Sunset clauses on the MPAs are another source of fierce debate. MPAs are usually established in perpetuity, but some CCAMLR member nations are advocating that Southern Ocean MPAs have built-in expiration dates ranging from 20 to 30 years. "Twenty years is shorter than the lifespan of most Antarctic predators which the MPAs are proposing to protect," Brooks said. But not only are sunset clauses inconsistent with the stated goals of MPAs, they do not meet internationally established criteria for protected areas and may not qualify for global MPA targets, the authors warn.

Broader geopolitics have also infiltrated CCAMLR negotiations, the authors say. For example, poor international relations between nations -- such as tensions between Russia and the United States over Crimea -- seem to be spilling into the negotiating room. Nations opposing MPAs are being accused of not negotiating in good faith, while proponents of MPAs are accused of using MPAs a political tool.
"The result is a breakdown of trust between member nations, causing a stalemate over MPAs," Crowder said.

High seas implications

Two large MPAs are currently being negotiated at CCAMLR: one in the East Antarctic and one in the Ross Sea -- a region that has been deemed "The Last Ocean" because it is perhaps the healthiest large marine ecosystem left on the planet.

"We've seen an East Antarctic and Ross Sea MPA come to CCAMLR's decision-making table five times now without being adopted. Next week will be the sixth," Brooks said. "Each year, during the course of negotiations, the proposed MPAs in these two regions have continued to be downsized, with ecologically critical areas removed and 'research fishing zones' added."

With CCAMLR meetings set to resume on Oct. 17, Brooks and her co-authors urge member nations to find a way forward in upholding their mandate and meeting their commitment toward MPAs. "The Southern Ocean is our best-case scenario," Brooks said. "If we can't figure out how to protect marine ecosystems there, it suggests it will be extremely difficult to protect them anywhere else."


Story Source:
Materials provided by Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
  1. C. M. Brooks, L. B. Crowder, L. M. Curran, R. B. Dunbar, D. G. Ainley, K. J. Dodds, K. M. Gjerde, U. R. Sumaila. Science-based management in decline in the Southern Ocean. Science, 2016; 354 (6309): 185 DOI: 10.1126/science.aah4119


Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. "Future of Antarctic marine protected areas at risk." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 October 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161013153230.htm>.
 
 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Bird flu poses threat to penguins

  • 23 September 2016
Scientists are warning of new threats to penguins on Antarctica from diseases spread by migratory birds.

A modern strain of bird flu has been found in penguins living on the snowy continent, although it does not seem to be making them ill.

Conservationists say penguins need better protection through monitoring for new diseases and safeguarding their breeding and fishing grounds.

Bird flu is an infectious disease of poultry and wild birds.

Scientists found an unusual strain of bird flu among penguins on Antarctica a few years ago.
A second strain has now been discovered, suggesting viruses are reaching the continent more often than previously thought.

Fragile Earth

"This is a concern because avian influenza viruses that can be deadly in many birds have recently circulated in North America," said Dr Aeron Hurt of the Peter Doherty Institute in Melbourne, who visited the continent to survey penguins and other birds.

He said the virus discovered did not seem to cause any illness in the birds, but the fact that it is down on the Antarctic Peninsula showed there was potential for deadlier viruses to also travel there.

"The impact of a pathogenic influenza virus, one that causes death or severe illness in birds, would have a really devastating impact," he added.

The Antarctic Peninsula is too far south to be part of the main flyways across the world for migratory birds.

However, a few birds do migrate there from North and South America.

Experts say a better understanding is needed of how viruses reach the continent.

Unique birdlife

Rory Crawford, seabird policy officer of the RSPB, said penguins were the second most threatened group of seabirds after albatrosses, so any new potential threats were of concern.

"Every effort needs to be made to prevent future transmission and its potential impacts on the unique birdlife of Antarctica," he said.

"Further, broader penguin conservation needs to be stepped up to help these imperilled birds - including through the protection of breeding habitat, identification and proper protection of marine protected areas and appropriate fisheries management."

Dr Derek Gatherer, of the University of Lancaster, said the findings suggested that the bird flu had originated in the northern hemisphere and entered Antarctica recently.

"Penguins are therefore under threat from highly pathogenic avian flu, despite their isolation," he said.

The research was published in the Journal of Virology.

source

How natural selection acted on one penguin species over the past quarter century

September 23, 2016
James Urton
A penguin in Argentina.
A Magellanic penguin at Punta Tombo, sporting a metal tag used for identification purposes. 
Dee Boersma

Biologists of all stripes attest to evolution, but have debated its details since Darwin’s day. Since changes arise and take hold slowly over many generations, it is daunting to track this process in real time for long-lived creatures.

“We know that evolution occurs — that species change,” said Dee Boersma, a University of Washington professor of biology. “But to see this process in long-lived animals you have to look at generations of individuals, track how traits are inherited and detect selection at work.”

Magellanic penguins on the beach in Argentina.
The scene at Punta Tombo in Dec. 2012.Dee Boersma

Boersma studies one particularly intriguing long-lived species, the Magellanic penguins of South America. She has spent 34 years gathering information about their lifespan, reproduction and behavior at Punta Tombo, a stretch of Argentine coast that serves as their largest breeding site.

Boersma and her colleagues combed through 28 years’ worth of penguin data to search for signs that natural selection — one of the main drivers of evolution — may be acting on certain penguin traits. As they report in a paper published Sept. 21 in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, selection is indeed at work at Punta Tombo.

“This is the first decades-long study to measure selection in penguins, and only the second one for birds overall,” said lead author Laura Koehn, a graduate student in the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences who worked with Boersma as an undergraduate.

Penguins at their nesting sites.
Heads held high at Punta Tombo.Dee Boersma

Like all penguins, the Magellanic variety are natural swimmers, where they feed on the bounty of the oceans. But once a year they return to the Argentine and Chilean coasts to mate and molt. Their “serial monogamy” — fidelity to one partner per breeding season — as well as a nagging preference to breed in the same general location each year make it possible to track individual birds over time, Koehn said. Boersma began the project, which is ongoing, in 1982.

To keep track of individuals amid a colony that at its height held 500,000 birds, Boersma and her team attached unique metal bands to the flipper of each penguin they studied. Each breeding season, the scientists would search for tagged penguins that made it back to Punta Tombo, measure basic physical characteristics and tag new chicks to add to their tracking duties.

“We chose characteristics that might be important to the success of individual penguins, like body size and bill depth,” said Boersma. “And once we had generations of trackable data for individuals and their descendants, we could ask: do these traits change over time?”

Through natural selection, individuals with traits that allow them to adapt and thrive in their environment can pass their favorable traits to their offspring.

Adult Magellanic penguin and two chicks, begging for food.
Adult Magellanic penguin and two chicks, begging for food. Dee Boersma

“Our question was simple: for these traits, do offspring resemble their parents?” said Koehn.
By measuring an entire population — like the Magellanic penguins at Punta Tombo — Boersma’s team could see if individuals with certain characteristics, for example a large body, were more successful at breeding over the years.

Koehn and co-authors searched for signs of selection across 28 years of Boersma’s data.
She could detect selection in seven of the 28 years for both males and females. Selection is likely acting on these traits every year, but the highly variable conditions at Punta Tombo mean that the “direction” of selection on each trait may fluctuate too much to see over just 28 years, said Boersma.

As the study continues, researchers may divine signatures of natural selection over additional years.
For the seven years the researchers could detect natural selection in males, there was a clear trend.

Larger males held an edge in lean years when resources are fewer. In females, they detected selection acting on traits such as foot size, bill depth and body size. But unlike males, they saw no clear trend on how selection was shaping the females of the species over time.

Magellanic penguins.
Magellanic penguins at Punta Tombo.Dee Boersma

“Those traits appear to be important for survival,” said Boersma. “But if environmental conditions change rapidly then selection also constantly changes, and it’s harder to see a clear trend over time.”

This is only the second time natural selection has been observed over 20 years or more for a bird species. Evolutionary biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant spent more than 20 years cataloguing traits in seed-eating finches on the Galapagos island of Daphne Major. These are some of the same Galapagos finches that inspired a young Darwin to come up with his theory of evolution by natural selection in the 19th century. The Grants detected signatures of natural selection at work on this island, correlating the changes with the influence of El Niño conditions.

“Now we’ve been able to track natural selection in a second bird species thanks to these decades of observations at Punta Tombo,” said Boersma.

Encouraged by her team’s findings with Magellanic penguins, Boersma intends to continue collecting data — tracking traits and survival for even more generations and repeating this analysis.
“This is only the beginning,” she concluded.

Co-authors include Jeffrey Hard with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Elaine Akst with Montgomery College.

The study is funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation, the ExxonMobil Foundation, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, the National Geographic Society, the Wadsworth Endowed Chair in Conservation Science at the University of Washington and Friends of the Penguins — as well as the Chase, Cunningham, CGMK, Offield, Peach, Thorne, Tortuga and Kellogg foundations.
###
For more information, contact Koehn at 206-616-2791 or laura.koehn216@gmail.com. Boersma is currently abroad and unreachable.

source

Monday, August 15, 2016

Incredible trek for penguins

Jamie Morton, the NZ Herald's science reporter

The New Zealand Herald
A rockhopper penguin on Campbell Island. Credit: David Thompson

Call it a happy feat.

New Zealand scientists have been astounded to find that two species of subantarctuic penguin were able to travel 15,000km - equivalent to the distance between Auckland and Boston - over a stretch of just six months.

The insight was revealed by a tagging project observing nearly 100 subantarctic rockhopper and Snares penguins over winter in the Southern Ocean.

"If they are constantly moving this averages out at about 100km a day but you also have to add on to that the distances covered vertically as the birds dive to capture food," said the study's leader, National Institute of Water and Atmosphere seabird ecologist Dr David Thompson.

While the Snares penguin population on their craggy namesake islands was relatively stable, Campbell Island's rockhoppers had dwindled by at least 21 per cent since 1984, leaving just over 33,000 breeding pairs there.

Rockhopper penguins on Campbell Island. Photo: Kyle Morrison
Rockhopper penguins on Campbell Island. Photo: Kyle Morrison
The island was once the world's largest breeding colony of the colourful rockhoppers - the smallest of all penguin species and featured on the movies Happy Feet and Surf's Up - but between 1942 and 1984 the population dropped by about 94 per cent.

Researchers have been trying to understand what has caused the sharp decline, with big changes in their diet a suspected cause.

Thompson said the penguins' led an extreme lifestyle, taking them out into the ocean for long periods of time.

"They come to land to breed and when they finish that, go back out to sea where they feed up for a month," he said.

"Then they come back to land to sit and moult their feathers. During that period they don't eat at all."
Having virtually starved themselves, they then headed back out to sea in poor condition.

"They've grown a whole new set of feathers so their plumage is fantastic but it's quite demanding so they're really scrawny.

"We think winter is pretty important and that there is almost certainly something going on in the ocean causing the population to decline."

The tags attached to the birds had to be modified from fitting the long, skinny leg of an albatross to the short, stubby leg of a penguin.

Thompson and his colleagues also had to time their arrival on Campbell Island, 620km south of Stewart Island, with the end of the moulting season, just as the penguins were ready to leave for the winter.

Then they had to clamber down rock faces and steep cliffs to reach them.

Of the 90 penguins tagged for the project, about 80 returned the following spring when the tags were retrieved and data processing began.

Tracking their movements was an eye-opening exercise.

The Snares penguin headed exclusively west towards Australia, while the rockhoppers went east and covered a wider section of the ocean.

Several birds covered more than 15,000km over the winter.

The tags were also able to determine when the penguins were stationary, indicating they had stopped to dive for food or rest.

Thompson said this first tracking project had provided just a snapshot, but the work had to be start somewhere.

He plans to repeat the project and include other species, such as the erect crested penguin of the Antipodes Islands.

"The extra species will give us more information on how they relate to each other when they go away. It may be that they use different space, or it may be that populations of different islands get together at sea.

"Research like this is important to better understand what's important for penguins. It is possible that particular parts of the ocean may help them get through from one year to the next so we need to be able to identify those places."

"Prior to this study we didn't have a clue where rockhoppers went in the winter but the spaces they use in the ocean might be really important - not only for them but for scientists to better understand what is causing the population decline."

source

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Penguin resilience to climate change investigated


August 2, 2016 by Pepita Smyth
Penguin resilience to climate change investigated
Credit: Murdoch University
New research by Murdoch University will investigate the future of Rockingham's beloved Little Penguins colony.
Dr Belinda Cannell, who has been part of a long-term study of the birds, will spend the next three years examining their resilience to that have remained warmer than average since late 2010 .

"Little Penguins are essentially the canaries in the coal mine for the Shoalwater Marine Park," she said.

"Understanding the viability of this population of penguins will give us a good understanding of the health of the whole ecosystem."

Dr Cannell will use new information collected over the next three years, along with data she has previously collected, to improve the understanding of how Little Penguins will fare with climate change and coastal development in the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park.

She will continue to track Little Penguins at sea using satellite and GPS technology, attaching special tags to some birds to record the diving depths when travelling and foraging.

"For the first time we will gain a real understanding of the movements and activities of the penguins in the water and show locations where they may be more at risk from watercraft collisions," she said.
Dr Cannell is also hoping to calculate the size of the penguin population and exactly what the penguins are eating.

"We have not done a full population count of the penguins since 2012 but other indicators have not been promising," she said.

"From 2010 to 2015 far fewer penguins were recorded using nest boxes and, not surprisingly, fewer eggs were laid. We believe this was connected to water temperatures being higher than average.

"The birds have been travelling long distances when they are relieved of incubating the eggs, some travelling down to Geographe Bay. Their foraging trips have been incredibly long, 10 days or more. This indicates food resources close to Penguin Island have been scarce."

Dr Cannell said were still warmer than normal in summer this year, but have now dropped back to normal. She is hoping to see a shift in the ' behaviour, indicating the coastal waters near Penguin Island are again supporting healthy baitfish stocks.

Provided by: Murdoch University search and more info

source website

Monday, July 11, 2016

Update: Climate Change May Shrink Adélie Penguin Range By End of Century

penguin and chicks on rocks
July 8, 2016

Climate has influenced the distribution patterns of Adélie penguins across Antarctica for millions of years. The geologic record tells us that as glaciers expanded and covered Adélie breeding habitats with ice, penguins in the region abandoned their colonies. When the glaciers melted during warming periods, the Adélie penguins were able to return to their rocky breeding grounds.

Now, a NASA-funded study by University of Delaware scientists and colleagues at other institutions reports that this warming may no longer be beneficial for Adélie penguins. In a paper published June 29 in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers project that approximately 30 percent of current Adélie colonies may be in decline by 2060, and approximately 60 percent of the present population might be dwindling by 2099. They also found the penguins at more southerly sites in Antarctica may be less affected by climate change.

space perspective of Antarctica with data overlay
This graphic shows changes to the suitability of Adélie penguin breeding areas.
Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

The study results suggest that changes in climate, particularly sustained periods of warmer than usual sea surface temperatures, are detrimental to Adélie penguins. While the specific mechanisms for this relationship remain unknown the study focuses attention on areas where climate change is likely to create a high frequency of unsuitable conditions during the 21st century.

“It is only in recent decades that we know Adélie penguins population declines are associated with warming, which suggests that many regions of Antarctica have warmed too much and that further warming is no longer positive for the species,” said the paper’s lead author, Megan Cimino, who earned her doctoral degree at University of Delaware in May and is now a postdoctoral scholar at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.

The Adélie penguin is a species that breeds across the entire Antarctic continent. The penguins are experiencing population declines along the West Antarctic Peninsula, which is one of the most rapidly warming places on Earth. Conversely, Adélie populations in other areas of Antarctica where the climate is stable or even cooling remain steady or are increasing.

The researchers’ objective was to understand the effects of climate change on Antarctic Adélie penguin colonies. The study, funded through the NASA Biodiversity program, used satellite data and global climate model projections to understand current and future population trends on a continental scale. They analyzed satellite observations from 1981 to 2010 of sea ice concentration and bare rock locations, as penguins need ice- and snow-free terrain with pebbles to make their nests. The scientists also took into account data from previous studies that had used satellite imagery to detect the presence or absence of penguin populations. Finally, the team also analyzed sea surface temperature data, which, together with bare rock and sea ice, was used as an indicator of the quality of penguins’ nesting habitats.

“From other studies that used actual ground counts -- people going and physically counting penguins -- and from high-resolution satellite imagery, we have global estimates of Adélie penguin breeding locations, meaning where they are present and where they are absent, throughout the entire Southern Ocean. We also have estimates of population size and how their populations have changed over last few decades,” said Cimino. “We used all these data to run habitat suitability models.”

“When we combined this data with satellite information and future climate projections of sea surface temperature and sea ice, we can look at past and future changes in Adélie penguin habitat suitability,” Cimino said. "Satellite data allowed me to look at all Adélie penguin habitats throughout the entire Southern Ocean and over multiple decades, which otherwise would not be possible using data solely collected on land or by ship."

By analyzing past satellite observations, the researchers examined the number of years from 1981 to 2010 that had novel or unusual climate  —when sea surface or ice temperatures deviated from average— during the Adélie penguin chick-rearing period and then used an ensemble of global climate models to make predictions about Adélie penguin habitat suitability from 2011 to 2099. The team validated the models with documented population trends.

space perspective of Antarctica with data overlay
This graphic shows changes to the status of Adélie penguin colonies.
Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

According to Cimino, the southern regions of the West Antarctic Peninsula, associated islands and northern regions of the Peninsula, which are already experiencing population declines, are projected to experience the greatest frequency of unusual climate this century due to warm sea surface temperatures. This suggests that warm sea surface temperatures may cause a decrease in the suitability of chick-rearing habitats at northerly latitudes.

“Penguin colonies near Palmer Station on the West Antarctic Peninsula have declined by at least 80 percent since the 1970s,” Cimino said. “Within this region we saw the most novel climate years compared to the rest of the continent. This means the most years with warmer than normal sea surface temperature. These two things seem to be happening in the West Antarctic Peninsula at a higher rate than in other areas during the same time period.”

By contrast, the study also suggests several refugia—areas of relatively unaltered climate—may exist in continental Antarctica beyond 2099, which would buffer a species-wide decline. Understanding how these refugia operate is critical to understanding the future of this species.

“The Cape Adare region of the Ross Sea is home to the earliest known penguin occupation and has the largest known Adélie penguin rookery in the world,” Cimino said. “Though the climate there is expected to warm a bit, it looks like it could be a refugia in the future, and if you look back over geologic time it was likely a refuge in the past,”

The researchers reported that climate change impacts on penguins in the Antarctic will likely be highly site-specific based on regional climate trends, and that a southward contraction in the range of Adélie penguins is likely over the next century.

“Studies like this are important because they focus our attention on areas where a species is most vulnerable to change,” concluded Cimino. “The results can have implications for other species that live in the area and for other ecosystem processes.”
 
Karen B. Roberts (University of Delaware)
adapted by Maria-Jose Viñas, NASA’s Earth Science News Team
Last Updated: July 8, 2016
Editor: Karl Hille
 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Penguins on world’s smelliest island in danger as volcano erupts, covering them in ash


A chinstrap penguin moulting on Zavodovski Island in the south Atlantic 
A chinstrap penguin moulting on Zavodovski Island in the south Atlantic  Credit: Pete Bucktrout, British Antarctic Survey 
Penguins on a remote British island are in danger of being wiped out after a volcano erupted, showering them in ash.
The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has warned that 1.3 million birds on Zavodovski Island are threatened by the natural disaster, which has covered the island in toxic smoke and sent ash raining down over half the landmass.
The island, which is part of the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean, is home to more than one million chinstrap penguins, the largest colony in the world, as well as 180,000 macaroni penguins, notable for the yellow plume on their heads.
Conservationists are concerned because the chinstrap penguins are moulting, shedding their old feathers for new, which means they cannot leave the island to find safety. During moulting, penguins lose their insulation and waterproofing so they have to stay out of the water.
Mount Curry on Zavodovski Island has been erupting since March 
Mount Curry on Zavodovski Island has been erupting since March  Credit: British Antarctic Survey 
The BAS is planning an expedition later in the year to check on how the ash has affected the colony.
“As the images were captured during the moult period for the chinstraps, the consequences could be very significant,” said Mike Dunn, a penguin ecologist from BAS.
“When the penguins return to breed later in the year, it will be interesting to see what impact this event has on their numbers.”
A group of chinstrap penguins 
The chinstrap penguins cannot leave the island because they are moulting Credit: Alamy 
Zavodovski Island is the most northerly of the South Sandwich Islands, a remote uninhabited archipelago of islands in the Sub Antarctic.
The island is known as the smelliest place on Earth because of the sulphuric air that emanates from the volcano. It has features including Stench Point, Acrid Point, Pungent Point, Reek Point and Noxious Bluff.
It is the first time that Zavodovski Island has been witnessed erupting, although there is evidence that it erupted in the 1970s, possibly in the 1980s and as late as 2012.
A satellite image of Zavodovski Island 
The eruption has covered half the island in ash Credit: Peter Fretwell, British Antarctic Survey 
Photos taken by fishing boats in the area show the main volcanic vent is on the western side of the island, but the prevailing wind is blowing the smoke and ash to the east, and depositing much of it on the lower slopes of the volcano where the chinstraps live in great numbers.
Mount Curry on Zavodovski Island first began erupting in March and grew more active following a 7.2 magnitude earthquake last month. Satellite imagery has confirmed that a second volcano, Mount Sourabaya on Bristol Island to the south, is also now erupting.
A chinstrap penguin 
The island is  is home to more than one million chinstrap penguins Credit: Alamy 
Dr Peter Fretwell, a geographer from BAS who was involved in the remapping of the archipelago, said: “We don’t know what impact the ash will have on the penguins. If it has been heavy and widespread it may have a serious effect on the population.
“It’s impossible to say, but two scientific expeditions are scheduled to visit the region from later this year and will try to assess the impact of the eruption.”
Chinstrap penguins are one of the brush-tailed penguin species common around the Antarctic Peninsula and Scotia Sea. The penguins are named after the distinctive strap under their beaks. Their bodies are around 70cm long and stand around 50cm high. Zavodovski Island is one of the world’s largest colonies of penguins.
A chinstrap penguin  moulting 
The island holds the largest colony of chinstrap penguins, named for the distinctive mark under their beaks  Credit: Pete Bucktrout, British Antarctic Survey  
 
source 

King penguins keep an ear out for predators

 
Society for Experimental Biology
Credit: Tessa van Walsum
Sleeping king penguins react differently to the sounds of predators than to non-predators and other sounds, when they are sleeping on the beach. Research carried out at the University of Roehampton, UK, has revealed that even asleep, these penguins can distinguish between dangerous and benign sounds.

Both adult and juvenile king penguins are prey to large predators like orcas and giant petrels. Even huge non-predator elephant seals can crush penguins to death with their bulky passage. In an environment like this, king penguins who are exhausted after long diving sessions must constantly keep an ear out for incoming threats.

PhD student Tessa Abigail van Walsum explains: "When we played single tones to sleeping penguins, they woke up with little reaction. However, playing them the calls of orcas or skuas caused them to wake up and flee."

Penguins also had strong reactions to some non-predator sounds, reports Ms van Walsum: "The sounds of approaching elephant seals rang big alarm bells for the penguins. Interestingly too, a recording of simple white noise had an unexpectedly strong effect, likely because it sounds much like an incoming wave on the beach." Notably, playing them the sound of unfamiliar predators, such as a dog's growl, got little reaction when they awoke.

The ability of these birds to respond differently upon waking up suggests that they might sleep with just one half of their brain, while keeping close watch with the other half similar to some migratory birds - essentially 'keeping an eye open'.

This research helps us to understand the survival strategies of king penguins in their natural habitats. In line with this, the research group would also like to test the sleeping behaviours of these birds at sea, as Ms van Walsum explains: "Presumably, king penguins sleep at sea when they are on long diving expeditions, so it will be fascinating to discover how they stay alert in that environment."

King penguin response video can be seen at the following link:
source


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Antarctica Is Warming Quickly, And That’s Bad News For Penguin Colonies

CREDIT: Flickr/Marie and Alistair Knock
An Adelie penguin surveys the landscape from a rock slope on Petermann Island, Antarctica

About a third of Adelie penguin colonies in Antarctica could disappear in the next four decades due to human-caused global warming, a figure that could balloon to more than half by the end of the century, a new study published Wednesday found.

Published in Scientific Reports, the study projects dramatic colony losses by 2060 as global warming affects nesting and potentially the penguins’ food supply of krill and fish. “With these numbers it’s important to note that we are talking about 30 percent of the current Adelie colonies … not the population. For example, there are about 200 Adelie colonies, but within those colonies, there [are] millions of penguins,” Megan Cimino, lead author and postdoctoral scholar at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, told ThinkProgress.

Characterized by a white halo around the eyes, Adelie penguins are fast-swimming predators that breed on the coasts of the southernmost continent of the planet. As of 2014 there were some 3.79 million breeding pairs of Adelie penguin, according to Audubon.

Like other penguin species, Adelie penguins have historically benefited from some warming, which allows better access to rock breeding grounds and the ocean for foraging. However, Cimino and colleagues at the University of Delaware report that warming benefits may have a tipping point. “It is only in recent decades that we know Adelie penguins’ population declines are associated with warming, which suggests that many regions of Antarctica have warmed too much and that further warming is no longer positive for the species,” she said.
The poles are warming faster than most of the planet. For Antarctica, that means rapid ice melt at increased rates. The Antarctic Peninsula north of the continent has warmed some 2.5 degrees Celsius — 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit — since 1950, according to the National Science and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Meanwhile, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is losing mass, likely due to warmer water deep in the ocean near the coast. The NSIDC reports that some stations in East Antarctica show some cooling, but that in general Antarctica is warming up. According to a 2015 study, ice shelves in West Antarctica have lost some 18 percent of their volume over the last two decades.

West Antarctica is seeing dramatic ice loss particularly the Antarctic Peninsula and Pine Island regions. Ice loss culprits include the loss off buttressing ice shelves, wind, and a sub-shelf channel that allows warm water to intrude below the ice.
West Antarctica is seeing dramatic ice loss particularly the Antarctic Peninsula and Pine Island regions. Ice loss culprits include the loss off buttressing ice shelves, wind, and a sub-shelf channel that allows warm water to intrude below the ice.
CREDIT: NASA/NSIDC

Funded through the NASA Biological Biodiversity research program, the University of Delaware study is based on 30 years of satellite observations of Adelie penguin colonies. Researchers examined the number of years from 1981 through 2010 that endured unusual climate during the chick-rearing period. They then used these observations and combined them with climate models to project habitat suitability from 2011 through 2099. Cimino said scientists know sea surface temperature and sea ice concentration affect Adelie survival, but the exact dynamic of how that happens is unclear. So far it's known that climate change can affect penguins’ nesting sites and food. For example, precipitation and snowmelt can cause flooding that drowns eggs and small chicks.

According to the study, late 20th-century climate warming along the West Antarctic Peninsula coincides with Adelie population declines, while stable or cooling conditions in the rest of the continent generally cause stable or increasing populations. Indeed, population improvement has been ongoing in East Antarctica, where Adelie penguins almost doubled over the past 30 years, according to a 2015 Australian Antarctic Division study.

So there is a glimmer of hope for the Adelie penguin. Since the effects of global warming will likely be site-specific, some parts of Antarctica will remain suitable for penguins, Cimino said. This means Adelie penguins might in the coming years march to these buffers zones for survival. The Capa Adare region in East Antarctica, home to the earliest known penguin colony, is one of these areas.
"Though the climate there is expected to warm a bit, it looks like it could be a [refuge] in the future, and if you look back over geologic time, it was likely a refuge in the past," she said.

 source

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Penguin population could drop 60 percent by end of the century

University of Delaware study shows temperature warming may have reached a tipping point
Date:
June 29, 2016
Source:
University of Delaware
Summary:
Approximately 30 percent of current Adélie penguin colonies may be in decline by 2060, researchers predict, and approximately 60 percent may be in decline by 2099. The declines are associated with warming -- many regions of Antarctica have warmed too much and further warming is no longer positive for the species.

University of Delaware researchers project that approximately 30 percent of current Adélie colonies may be in decline by 2060 and approximately 60 percent may be in decline by 2099. Warming in Antarctica, once beneficial to the penguins, has reached a tipping point and is causing the sharp decline. Credit: University of Delaware/ Megan Cimino
 
Climate has influenced the distribution patterns of Adélie penguins across Antarctica for millions of years.

The geologic record shows that as glaciers expanded and covered Adélie breeding habitats with ice, penguin colonies were abandoned. When the glaciers melted during warming periods, this warming positively affected the Adélie penguins, allowing them to return to their rocky breeding grounds.
But now, University of Delaware scientists and colleagues report that this beneficial warming may have reached its tipping point.

In a paper published in Scientific Reports, the researchers project that approximately 30 percent of current Adélie colonies may be in decline by 2060 and approximately 60 percent may be in decline by 2099.

"It is only in recent decades that we know Adélie penguins population declines are associated with warming, which suggests that many regions of Antarctica have warmed too much and that further warming is no longer positive for the species," said the paper's lead author Megan Cimino, who earned her doctoral degree at UD in May.

Co-authors on the work include Matthew Oliver, principal investigator on the project and Patricia & Charles Robertson Professor of Marine Science & Policy in UD's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment; Heather J. Lynch, assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University; and Vincent S. Saba, a research fishery biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service.

Declining populations

The Adélie penguin is a species that breeds around the entire Antarctic continent. The species is experiencing population declines along the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP), which is one of the most rapidly warming places on Earth, while Adélie populations in other areas around the continent where the climate is stable or even cooling remain steady or increasing.

The researchers' objective was to understand the effects of climate change on Antarctic Adélie penguin colonies. The study builds on previously published work by Oliver's research team to better understand Antarctica's shifting ecosystem by tracking penguins and their habitats. The current work used satellite data and global climate model projections to understand current and future population trends on a continental scale.

"Our study used massive amounts of data to run habitat suitability models. From other studies that used actual ground counts--people going and physically counting penguins-- and from high resolution satellite imagery, we have global estimates of Adélie penguin breeding locations, meaning where they are present and where they are absent, throughout the entire Southern Ocean. We also have estimates of population size and how their populations have changed over last few decades," explained Cimino, now a postdoctoral scholar at Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

"When we combined this data with satellite information and future climate projections on sea surface temperature and sea ice, we can look at past and future changes in Adélie penguin habitat suitability," Cimino said.

Funded through the NASA Biodiversity program, the study is based on satellite observations from 1981-2010 of sea surface temperature, sea ice and bare rock locations, and true presence-absence data of penguin population estimates from satellite imagery.

In particular, the researchers examined the number of years from 1981-2010 with novel or unusual climate during the Adélie penguin chick-rearing period from past satellite observations and used an ensemble of global climate models to make predictions about Adélie penguin habitat suitability from 2011-2099. The team validated the models with documented population trends.

The study results suggest that climate novelty, particularly warm sea surface temperature (SST), is detrimental to Adélie penguins. While the specific mechanisms for this relationship remain unknown, the study focuses attention on areas where climate change is likely to create a high frequency of unsuitable conditions during the 21st century.

Lynch noted that "One of the key advances over the last decade is our ability to find penguin colonies from space and, nearly as important, to determine which areas of Antarctica do not support penguin colonies. Having both true presence and absence across a species' global range is unique to this system, and opens up new avenues for modeling habitat suitability."

Refugia offer a glimmer of hope

According to Cimino, the southern WAP, associated islands and northern WAP regions, which are already experiencing population declines, are projected to experience the greatest frequency of novel climate this century due to warm SST. This suggests that warm sea surface temperatures may cause a decrease in the suitability of chick-rearing habitats at northerly latitudes.

"Matt and I have worked extensively at Palmer Station and we know that penguin colonies near there have declined by at least 80 percent since the 1970s. Within this region we saw the most novel climate years compared to the rest of the continent. This means the most years with warmer than normal sea surface temperature. These two things seem to be happening in the WAP at a higher rate than in other areas during the same time period," Cimino said.

By contrast, the study also suggests several refugia -- areas of relatively unaltered climate -- may exist in continental Antarctica beyond 2099, which would buffer a species-wide decline. Understanding how these refugia operate is critical to understanding the future of this species.
"The Cape Adare region of the Ross Sea is home to the earliest known penguin occupation and has the largest known Adélie penguin rookery in the world. Though the climate there is expected to warm a bit, it looks like it could be a refugia in the future, and if you look back over geologic time it was likely a refuge in the past," Cimino said.

The researchers reported that climate change impacts on penguins in the Antarctic will likely be highly site-specific based on regional climate trends, and that a southward contraction in the range of Adélie penguins is likely over the next century.

"Studies like this are important because they focus our attention on areas where a species is most vulnerable to change," concluded Cimino. "The results can be used for management; they can have implications for other species that live in the area and for other ecosystem processes."


Story Source:
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Delaware. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
  1. Megan A. Cimino, Heather J. Lynch, Vincent S. Saba, Matthew J. Oliver. Projected asymmetric response of Adélie penguins to Antarctic climate change. Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 28785 DOI: 10.1038/srep28785


University of Delaware. "Penguin population could drop 60 percent by end of the century: University of Delaware study shows temperature warming may have reached a tipping point." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 June 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160629094848.htm>.
 
 

World's first successful artificial insemination of southern rockhopper penguin

 
Date:
June 28, 2016
Source:
Kobe University
Summary:
DNA tests have confirmed that one of the three southern rockhopper penguin chicks born at Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan between June 4 and 6 was conceived through artificial insemination. It is the world's first successful case of a southern rockhopper penguin being conceived through artificial insemination.

DNA tests have confirmed that one of the three southern rockhopper penguin chicks born at Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan between June 4 and 6 was conceived through artificial insemination. This is the result of a project led by Kaiyukan with the collaboration of Associate Professor KUSUNOKI Hiroshi (Kobe University Graduate School of Agricultural Science). It is the world's first successful case of a southern rockhopper penguin being conceived through artificial insemination.
Southern rockhopper penguins are a species of birds approximately 50cm in height which inhabit southern islands near Antarctica such as the Falkland Islands. They are on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature as a threatened species.

Kaiyukan and Associate Professor Kusunoki began their joint research in 2011, aiming to elucidate the breeding habits of southern rockhopper penguins and develop the technology for their artificial insemination. In spring 2015 the group obtained a fertilized egg, but the chick did not hatch, and DNA tests determined that the unborn chick was the result of natural reproduction.

This time multiple penguins were selected for breeding, and the group enlisted the cooperation of Tokyo Sea Life Park, where scientists had previously succeeded in breeding species through natural reproduction. At the end of April they obtained a healthy sperm sample from a male penguin at Tokyo Sea Life Park and transported it to Kaiyukan without loss of quality. At Kaiyukan they used blood tests to estimate the laying days of three female penguins and determine the best timing for artificial insemination.

Between April 28 and May 4 the three female penguins laid five eggs between them. These were incubated by the penguin couples for approximately one month, and three chicks hatched between June 4 and 6. Results of DNA tests carried out on blood samples taken from inside the eggshells revealed that one of these chicks was conceived through artificial insemination.

Story Source:
The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Kobe University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Kobe University. "World's first successful artificial insemination of southern rockhopper penguin." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 June 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160628072251.htm>.

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