Decline in Breeding Chinstrap Penguins in Antarctic Peninsula Confirmed
Chinstrap penguins at Baily Head, Deception Island. (Credit: Copyright Thomas Mueller)
ScienceDaily (Aug. 29, 2012) — In a paper published this week in the journal Polar Biology,
researchers from the Antarctic Site Inventory confirm significant
declines in the breeding population of chinstrap penguins in the vastly
warming Antarctic Peninsula, where it's warming faster than, or as fast
as, any other place on Earth.
New results and analyses stem from fieldwork conducted in December
2011 at Deception Island, one of the most frequently visited locations
Overseen by Ron Naveen, founder of the nonprofit science and
conservation organization, Oceanites, Inc., the Deception Island census
effort analyses were undertaken by Dr. Heather Lynch, Assistant
Professor of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University, and chief
scientist of the Antarctic Site Inventory project.
The Inventory has been collecting and analyzing Antarctic
Peninsula-wide penguin population data since 1994, and these new
findings have important implications both for the advancement of
Antarctic science and the management of Antarctica by the Antarctic
"Our Deception Island work, using the yacht Pelagic as our base,
occurred over 12 days and in the harshest of conditions -- persistent
clouds, precipitation, and high winds, the latter sometimes reaching
gale force and requiring a lot of patience waiting out the blows," said
Naveen. "But, in the end, we achieved the first-ever survey of all
chinstraps breeding on the island."
The other Inventory researchers on the team were Steven Forrest
(Oceanites, Inc.), Dr. Thomas Mueller (Biodiversity and Climate Research
Centre), and Dr. Michael Polito (now at Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institute). The scientific effort of the Inventory is supported by the
U.S. National Science Foundation and public contributions, and the
project's on-the-ground fieldwork at Deception Island was specifically
supported by a grant from The Tinker Foundation. The Inventory is the
only publicly supported science project working in Antarctica and the
only science project tracking penguin populations throughout the entire
Antarctic Peninsula region.
The scientific effort of the Inventory is supported by the U.S.
National Science Foundation and public contributions, and the project's
on-the-ground fieldwork at Deception Island was specifically supported
by a grant from The Tinker Foundation. The Inventory is the only
publicly supported science project working in Antarctica and the only
science project tracking penguin populations throughout the entire
Antarctic Peninsula region.
Deception Island is frequently visited and there has been speculation
that tourism may have a negative impact on breeding chinstrap penguins
-- especially, at Deception Island's largest chinstrap colony known as
Baily Head. Previously, Antarctic Treaty-level discussions regarding the
management of visitors at Baily Head proceeded in the absence of
concrete site-wide census data.
The results and analyses, according to Dr. Lynch, shed new light on the massive changes occurring in this region.
"Our team found 79,849 breeding pairs of chinstrap penguins at
Deception, including 50,408 breeding pairs at Baily Head. Combined with a
simulation designed to capture uncertainty in an earlier population
estimate, there is strong evidence to suggest a significant (>50%)
decline in the abundance of chinstraps breeding at Baily Head since
"The decline of chinstrap penguins at Baily Head is consistent with
declines in this species throughout the region, including at sites that
receive little or no tourism; further, as a consequence of regional
environmental changes that currently represent the dominant influence on
penguin dynamics, we cannot ascribe any direct link in this study
between chinstrap declines and tourism."
The Baily Head analysis was abetted by Dr. Lynch's cutting-edge
analyses of high-resolution satellite imagery. Images were available for
the 2002/03 and the 2009/10 seasons that suggest a 39% decline over
that seven-year period, and which provide independent confirmation of
this population decline. Via assistance from the U.S. National Science
Foundation and a cooperative effort the University of Minnesota's Polar
Geospatial Center, the Inventory continues to demonstrate the use of
satellite imagery to analyze and describe environmental change in
"We now know," says Naveen, "that two of the three predominant
penguin species in the Peninsula -- chinstrap and Adélie -- are
declining significantly in a region where, in the last 60 years, it's
warmed by 3˚ C. (5˚ F.) annually and by 5˚ C. (9˚ F.) in winter. By
contrast, gentoo penguins, the third of these species, are expanding
both its numbers and range. These divergent responses are an ongoing
focus of our Inventory work effort."
Adds Lynch: "While there has been considerable focus in the policy
and management community about the potential impact of tourism on these
penguin populations, we cannot forget the overwhelming evidence that
climate is responsible for the dramatic changes that we are seeing on
the Peninsula. If tourism is having a negative impact on these
populations, it's too small an effect to be detected against the
background of climate change."
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Stony Brook University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.
Ron Naveen, Heather J. Lynch, Steven Forrest, Thomas Mueller, Michael Polito. First
direct, site-wide penguin survey at Deception Island, Antarctica,
suggests significant declines in breeding chinstrap penguins. Polar Biology, 2012; DOI: 10.1007/s00300-012-1230-3
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