Exploring Species Climate Change Options
Today an international team of scientists funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and supported by its Office of Polar Programs and the U.S. Antarctic Program is researching how penguins are coping with a rapidly changing climate, as well as to equally profound changes caused by commercial fishing.
Researchers have come to Ross Island to study penguin colonies, giant living laboratories where thousands of Adélie penguins converge in raucous crowds during Antarctica’s warmer months to breed and rear their young.
Amid this activity, researchers David Ainley, Grant Ballard, Katie Dugger and others monitor the birds with an array of high tech equipment, including computerized weigh bridges, satellite telemetry, and microchips to identify individual penguins. With these tools the team is examining how penguin resources (prey and habitat), and competition (among themselves and with other species such as whales), and climate factors (wind and sea ice conditions) are affecting their populations.
In addition to advanced technology, 55 years of long-term research conducted at these colonies has made the Adélie penguin one of the world’s best-studied wild birds, and, lately, a harbinger of environmental change.