Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Diet of Penguins

Going on a Diet

Posted: December 1, 2008

Courtesy: Antarctic Sun

By Peter Rejcek
There’s an old saying: You are what you eat. But the krill-based diet of penguins breeding and living on King George Island off the northern end of the Antarctic Peninsula first tipped scientists off that food could provide an altogether different insight.

“It was the penguins that actually keyed us into to the global change scenario that has become the leading hypothesis about climate change in the peninsula region,” explained Wayne Trivelpiece , a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service whose research also receives support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) .

Trivelpiece, along with his wife and co-principal investigator, Susan Trivelpiece , has compiled more than 30 years of continuous data on the three types of penguins from a seabird research program at King George Island — Adélies, chinstraps and gentoos. During that time, atmospheric temperatures in the peninsula region have risen faster than anywhere on the planet, particularly in the winter, where the average has increased by 5 degrees Celsius.

“Studying all three [penguins] at once has given us some real insights into just what happens when we come across some major changes in environmental features and climate, which has certainly happened there,” Wayne Trivelpiece said.

Krill are shrimplike crustaceans that penguins, seals and other marine denizens feed on. Krill rely on sea ice in the winter as a habitat, grazing on algae that form underneath the ice. But the increasing temperatures have made the formation of sea ice, once predictable and reliable, uncertain from year to year, according to Wayne Trivelpiece.

That’s directly affected the abundance of krill and the survival rates of penguins.

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