AboutZoos, Since 2008


Gen­too pen­guins’ win­ter behav­iour cap­tured with time-​lapse cameras

pub­lished 19 April 2017 | mod­i­fied 19 April 2017

gentoo penguin time lapse 2014Not even the most intre­pid researcher wants to spend win­ter in Antarc­tica, so how can you learn what pen­guins are doing dur­ing those cold, dark months? Sim­ple: Leave behind some cam­eras. Year-​round stud­ies across the full extent of a species’ range are espe­cially impor­tant in polar areas, where indi­vid­u­als within a sin­gle species may adopt a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent migra­tion strate­gies to get by, and a new study pub­lished on 19 April in The Auk: Ornitho­log­i­cal Advances uses this unique approach to get new insights into Gen­too Pen­guin behaviour.

Gen­too Pen­guins (Pygoscelis papua) are of inter­est to sci­en­tists because they’re increas­ing at the south­ern end of their range in the West­ern Antarc­tic Penin­sula, a region where other pen­guin species are declin­ing. Lit­tle is known about their behav­iour dur­ing the non­breed­ing sea­son, so Caitlin Black and Tom Hart of the Uni­ver­sity of Oxford and Andrea Raya Rey of Argentina’s Con­sejo Nacional de Inves­ti­ga­ciones Cien­tifi­cas y Téc­ni­cas used time-​lapse cam­eras to exam­ine pat­terns in Gen­too Pen­guins’ pres­ence at breed­ing sites across their range dur­ing the off sea­son. They found both tem­po­ral and spa­tial fac­tors dri­ving win­ter atten­dance — for exam­ple, more Gen­too Pen­guins were present at breed­ing sites when there was open water or free-​floating pack ice than when the shore­line was iced in, and more Gen­too Pen­guins were at breed­ing sites ear­lier in non­breed­ing sea­son than later.

Antarctica gentoo penguin study sitesMap of 7 study sites, includ­ing (1) Mar­tillo Island, Argentina; (2) Maiviken, South Geor­gia; (3) Cuverville Island; (4) Danco Island; (5) Neko Har­bor; (6) Port Lock­roy: and (7) Peter­mann Island on the West­ern Antarc­tic Penin­sula. Sim­i­lar col­ors indi­cate sites that are not sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent in their counts of non­breed­ing atten­dance when exam­in­ing their orthog­o­nal con­trasts. The dashed box des­ig­nates the region of study sites 37.
Caitlin Black, Andrea Raya Rey, and Tom Hart (2017) Peek­ing into the bleak mid­win­ter: Inves­ti­gat­ing non­breed­ing strate­gies of Gen­too Pen­guins using a cam­era net­work. The Auk: July 2017, Vol. 134, No. 3, pp. 520529.
Cre­ative Com­mons license (CC-​BY-​NC-​ND)

The researchers deployed the cam­eras at seven sites includ­ing Argentina, Antarc­tica, and sev­eral islands. Each cam­era took eight to four­teen pho­tos per day, and vol­un­teer “cit­i­zen sci­en­tists” were recruited to count the pen­guins in each image via a web­site (pen​guin​watch​.org). Over­all, the seven sites fell into three dis­tinct groups in terms of win­ter atten­dance, each with its own pat­terns of site occu­pa­tion. These find­ings could have impor­tant impli­ca­tions for under­stand­ing how local­ized dis­tur­bances due to cli­mate change and fish­eries activ­ity affect pen­guin pop­u­la­tions dur­ing the non­breed­ing season.

we are only just begin­ning to dis­cover the uses of time-​lapse cam­eras as deployed vir­tual ecol­o­gists in field studies
Tom Hart, Depart­ment of Zool­ogy, Uni­ver­sity of Oxford, UK »

Work­ing with cam­eras allows us to under­stand half of this species’ life with­out hav­ing to spend the harsh win­ter in Antarc­tica. It has been excit­ing to dis­cover more about why Gen­toos are present year-​round at breed­ing sites with­out hav­ing to han­dle a sin­gle bird,” says Black. “I believe the appli­ca­tions for this tech­nol­ogy are far-​reaching for colo­nial seabirds and mam­mals, and we are only just begin­ning to dis­cover the uses of time-​lapse cam­eras as deployed vir­tual ecol­o­gists in field studies.”

What most seabirds do away from their nest is often anybody’s guess. For Antarc­tic birds, this is com­pounded by the long peri­ods of dark­ness that pen­guins and oth­ers must face in the win­ter,” adds Mark Hauber, Editor-​in-​Chief of The Auk: Ornitho­log­i­cal Advances and Pro­fes­sor of Ani­mal Behav­iour at Hunter Col­lege and the Grad­u­ate Cen­ter of the City Uni­ver­sity of New York. “This new research in The Auk: Ornitho­log­i­cal Advances on Gen­too Pen­guins colonies reveals crit­i­cal year-​to-​year dif­fer­ences in where the birds are when they are not nest­ing: In some years, only the most tem­per­ate sites are vis­ited, and in other years both southerly and northerly loca­tions are busy with penguins.”

(Source: The Auk Ornitho­log­i­cal Advances press release, 19.04.2017)

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