Emperor penguins and climate change


This video says about itself:

All Penguin Species – Species List

King penguin : (Aptenodytes patagonicus)
Emperor penguin : (Aptenodytes forsteri)
Adélie penguin : (Pygoscelis adeliae)
Chinstrap penguin : (Pygoscelis antarctica)
Gentoo penguin : (Pygoscelis papua)
Little penguin : (Eudyptula minor)
Magellanic penguin : (Spheniscus magellanicus)
Humboldt penguin : (Spheniscus humboldti)
Galapagos penguin : (Spheniscus mendiculus)
African penguin : (Spheniscus demersus)
Yellow-eyed penguin : (Megadyptes antipodes)
Fiordland penguin : (Eudyptes pachyrynchus)
Snares penguin : (Eudyptes robustus)
Erect-crested penguin : (Eudyptes sclateri)
Southern rockhopper : (Eudyptes chrysocome)
Northern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi)
Royal penguin : (Eudyptes schlegeli)
Macaroni penguin : (Eudyptes chrysolophus)

From Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the USA:

Are emperor penguins eating enough?

Scientists gauge foraging success by spying with time-lapse video

May 2, 2018

For Emperor penguins waddling around a warming Antarctic, diminishing sea ice means less fish to eat. How the diets of these tuxedoed birds will hold up in the face of climate change is a big question scientists are grappling with.

Researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have developed a way to help determine the foraging success of Emperor penguins by using time-lapse video observations relayed to scientists thousands of miles away. The new remote sensing method is described in the May 2, 2018, issue of the Journal of Applied Physics.

This 2 May 2018 video is called Scientists gauge Emperor penguin foraging success by spying with time-lapse video.

“Global warming may be cutting in on food availability for Emperor penguins”, said Dan Zitterbart, a scientist at WHOI and co-author of the study. “And if their diets change significantly, it could have implications on the health and longevity of these animals — which are already expected to be highly threatened or close to extinct by the end of this century. With this new approach, we now have a logistically viable way to determine the foraging success of these animals by taking images of their behavior once they return back to the colony from their foraging trips.”

Off all the penguin species, Emperor penguins tend to be the biggest eaters. And for good reason: they make exceptionally long treks on sea ice to reach their foraging grounds — sometimes up to 75 miles during the winter — and feed their large chicks when they return. But as sea ice diminishes, so does the microscopic plankton living underneath, which serves as the primary food source for fish that penguins eat. Sea ice also provides an important resting platform for the penguins in between foraging dives, so melting can make foraging that much harder.

Determining the species’ foraging success involves a two-step process. First, digital photos of the birds are taken every minute throughout the day using an inexpensive time-lapse camera perched above the colony 100 feet away. The camera is rugged enough to withstand up to ?50° Celsius temperatures and wind speeds above 150 kilometers per hour.

Céline Le Bohec, a research scientist in ecology from the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) and the Centre Scientifique de Monaco, and co-author of the study, says this spying capability overcomes a major limitation in Antarctic field research: the ability to monitor conditions remotely.

“It’s really important to be able to understand how changing environmental conditions will impact penguin populations, but the harsh weather conditions and logistic difficulties linked to the remoteness of the white continent have made it very challenging to get information from over there,” she said. “Now, with our observatories, especially remotely-controlled ones, we can go online anytime and instantly see what is happening in the colony.

Moreover, due to their position at the upper level of the food web, working on top-predators such as Emperor penguins, is very useful for understanding and predicting the impact of global changes on the polar marine biome: it’s like having an alarm system on the health of these ecosystems.”

Images are recorded and stored in an image database and later correlated with sensor-based measurements of air temperature, relative humidity, solar radiation, and wind. The combined data sets enable Zitterbart and his team to calculate a “perceived penguin temperature” — the temperature that penguins are feeling. It is much like the wind chill factor for humans: the air temperature may be -12° Celsius, but other factors can make it feel colder.

“Early in the project, we thought if, for example, the wind was blowing faster than 15 meters per second, the penguins would always be huddling, regardless of the other environmental conditions”, said Sebastian Richter, a Ph.D. student in Zitterbart’s group and lead author of the study. “However, we did not find this to be true, and soon realized that we needed to account for the other weather conditions when assessing huddling behavior.”

By correlating the penguin’s “wind chill” temperature with video observations of when the penguins begin huddling, they’re able to come up with a “transition temperature” — the temperature at which colonies shift from a scattered, liquid-like state to a huddled, solid-like state. If the transition occurs at warmer temperatures, it means the penguins are feeling cold earlier and begin huddling to stay warm and conserve energy. And that indicates that the penguins had less body fat upon their return from foraging and were probably undernourished because they did not find enough food to eat within a reasonable distance from their breeding colony. If the transition temperature is lower later in the season, it suggests that the foraging season was a success and the animals returned well-fed and with higher amounts of body fat.

Zitterbart says the information may ultimately be used to derive conservation measures to protect Emperor penguins. According to a previous WHOI study, the species is critically endangered, and it’s projected that by 2100, the global population will have declined by 20% and some colonies might reduce by as much as 70% of the current number of breeding pairs of Emperor penguins if heat-trapping gas emissions continue to rise and Antarctic sea ice continues to retreat.

“With the information produced by our observatories, population modelling will help us to better project the fate of the different colonies that are left,” he said. “It’s important to know which colonies are going to be the first most affected by climate change, so if it appears that a certain colony will remain strong over the next century, conservation measures like marine protected areas can be established to better protect them.”

See also here.

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Plesiosaur fossil discovery in Antarctica


This video says about itself:

Scientists discover a 150 million years old plesiosaur in Antarctica

21 December 2017

It is the first record of a plesiosaur from the Jurassic period in Antarctica. It is a carnivorous reptile of the sea that exceeded six meters in length. It was discovered in the Antarctic Peninsula, in a new paleontological site located 113 kilometers southwest of the Marambio Base in Seymour Island.

From AFP news agency:

Giant marine reptile lived in Antarctic 150 million years ago

December 22, 2017

Scientists in Argentina have found the remains of a giant carnivorous marine reptile, or plesiosaur, that lived 150 million years ago in Antarctica.

The four-finned reptile, which measured up to 12 meters (13 yards) long, dates from the late Jurassic period …

Soledad Cavalli, a paleontologist at Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council, said: “At this site, you can find a great diversity of fish, ammonites, some bivalves, but we did not expect to find such an ancient plesiosaur.”

The “surprising” discovery has never been documented, according to a statement from the National University of La Matanza, near Buenos Aires.

“The discovery is pretty extraordinary, because the rock types at the site weren’t thought conducive to the preservation of bones, like the vertebrae of this marine reptile”, Cavalli said.

The discovery site was a two-hour helicopter journey from Argentina’s Marambio Base on the tip of Antarctica, with the researchers set to continue their work in January, during the southern hemisphere’s summer.

Marcelo Reguero of the Argentine Antarctic Institute (IAA) added that Antarctica was at the time part of the Gondwana continent, which also included Australia, New Zealand, India, Madagascar, Africa and South America, before continental drift pushed them apart.

Emperor penguin chicks video


This video says about itself:

[Emperor] Penguin Chicks Struggle To Survive – Planet Earth – BBC Earth

22 May 2017

The urge for Penguins to parent their chicks is incredibly strong, and in this footage we are given a wonderful insight into the role both parents play in raising their young. Braving the severe conditions of Antarctica poses a huge obstacle, so if the chicks are to survive until summer it will be thanks to the extraordinary hardships endured by their parents.

Antarctic Adélie penguins, new count


This video says about itself:

14 March 2017

Scientists have their best estimate yet of how many Adélie penguins live in East Antarctica, numbering almost six million, 3.6 million more than previously estimated.

Read more about this here.

Noisy dinosaur age bird discovered in Antarctic


This video says about itself:

Discovery of fossil “voice box” of Antarctic bird suggests dinosaurs couldn’t sing

2 October 2016

Researchers have found the oldest known fossil vocal organ of a bird … in Antarctica. The voice box is from a species related to ducks and geese that lived during the age of dinosaurs more than 66 million years ago. A National Science Foundation funded team led by the University of Texas at Austin discovered the ancient vocal organ called a syrinx–and its apparent absence from non-bird dinosaur fossils of the same age. Researchers believe the organ may have originated late in the evolution of birds after the origin of flight. Drawing on their research, team leader Julia Clarke said that other dinosaurs may not have been able to make noises similar to modern bird calls, but most likely made closed-mouth sounds similar to ostrich booms that don’t require a syrinx.

The organ was found in a fossil species called Vegavis iaai. The fossil was discovered in 1992 on Vega Island in the Antarctic Peninsula by a team from the Argentine Antarctic Institute. It was named in 2005 by Clarke and Argentine colleagues. But, it wasn’t until 2013 Clarke discovered the fossil syrinx in the new specimen and began analysis. The international team may figure out what dinosaurs sounded like, gaining insight into the origins of bird song. The findings appear in the October 12 issue of “Nature”.

See also here.

From Science News:

Birds’ honks filled Late Cretaceous air

Sounds inferred from oldest preserved avian voice box

By Meghan Rosen

3:53pm, October 12, 2016

ANCIENT VOICE BOX: A ducklike bird that lived some 68 million to 66 million years ago left behind fossilized remains of a voice box, or syrinx, on an island off the coast of Antarctica.

Some ancient birds may have sounded like honking ducks.

For the first time, scientists have discovered the fossilized remains of a voice box from the age of the dinosaurs. The sound-making structure, called a syrinx, belonged to Vegavis iaai, a bird that lived 68 million to 66 million years ago, researchers report October 12 in Nature.

“It may be a once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” says evolutionary biologist Patrick O’Connor of Ohio University in Athens, who wrote a commentary in Nature about the fossil. Now, he says, the hunt will be on to find voice boxes in other fossils.

The new work helps fill in the soundscape of the Late Cretaceous Epoch. It could also offer hints about sounds made by all sorts of dinosaurs, says study coauthor Julia Clarke of the University of Texas at Austin.

Unlike in humans, where the larynx lies below the throat, birds’ voice boxes rest inside the chest at the base of the windpipe. Stacked rings of cartilage anchor vibrating membranes that make sound when air whooshes through.

This delicate structure doesn’t typically fossilize. In fact, scientists have previously spotted just a few syrinxes in the fossil record. The oldest known, from a wading bird, was about 50 million years old. Clarke’s team examined that syrinx, which hadn’t been studied before, and the one from V. iaai.

The V. iaai fossil, a partial skeleton discovered on an island off the coast of Antarctica, was removed from a rock about the size of a cantaloupe, Clarke says. Just one small area remained encased in rocky material. Everyone thought that bit was trivial, she says. But “it was within that tiny little section that I saw the syrinx.” Three-dimensional CT scans let her peer within the rock and see the telltale rings of a voice box, a structure roughly half the size of a multivitamin pill. “It was one of the biggest, happiest days of my career,” Clarke says.

Biologist Philip Senter of Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, who was not involved in the study, echoes Clarke’s enthusiasm. “It’s quite exciting to find such a rarely preserved structure,” he says. Seeing it in 3-D will make paleontologists “chortle joyously.”

Comparing the fossil with living birds helped Clarke and her team figure out what sounds the ancient bird might have made. Both the bird’s skeleton and its syrinx suggest it squawked like today’s ducks and geese.

The find also proves that voice boxes from dinosaurs’ time can indeed fossilize. No one has found the structures in nonavian dinosaurs, Clarke says. “That suggests that most dinosaurs may not have had a syrinx.”

Instead, she proposes, dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex and Stegosaurus might have made noises like crocodiles: deep “booming” sounds generated in the back of the mouth.

Arctic tern’s new world migration record


This video says about itself:

13 February 2013

We went to Antarctica to see the penguins, and we certainly did. But we saw so much more wildlife: orcas and elephant seals and leopard seals and many different seabirds. My favorite is the Arctic tern, a little bird that migrates farther every year than any other in the world… from the Antarctic to the Arctic, and back – 20,000 miles every year.

The video features, eg, gentoo penguins and blue-eyed cormorants.

I was privileged to see a wintering Arctic tern in the Antarctic as well.

From Zeenews:

Record-breaking! Arctic Tern makes longest annual migration, covers 59,650 miles

Tuesday, June 7, 2016 – 12:27

An Arctic Tern, one of the smallest sea-birds, made the longest ever annual migration between July 25th, 2015 to May 4th, 2016, covering a distance of 59,650 miles from their North-East [England; Farne islands] homes, according to The Guardian reports.

For the first time, scientists at Newcastle University in collaboration with BBC’s Springwatch have mapped the annual migration of Arctic Terns from Northumberland to Antarctica and back with the help of electronic tags fitted on their bodies.

Scientists revealed that the total distance covered by the tiny bird in its meandering journey is more than twice the circumference of the our home planet.

The bird, which weighs just 100g, left its breeding grounds last July and flew down the west coast of Africa, rounded the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean and arrived in Antarctica in November.

The previous record of 56,545 miles was also held by an Arctic Tern, who covered this distance on its polar flight from the Netherlands.