‘Emperor penguins need more protection’


This 2018 video says about itself:

Emperor Penguin Mourns the Death of Chick | BBC Earth

A huddle of penguins is formed to protect each other from the cold – but young chicks can end up crushed or frozen.

From the British Antarctic Survey:

Study recommends special protection of emperor penguins

October 8, 2019

In a new study published this week (Wednesday 9 October) in the journal Biological Conservation, an international team of researchers recommends the need for additional measures to protect and conserve one of the most iconic Antarctic species — the emperor penguin (Aptenodyptes forsteri).

The researchers reviewed over 150 studies on the species and its environment as well as its behaviour and character in relation to its breeding biology. Current climate change projections indicate that rising temperatures and changing wind patterns will impact negatively the sea ice on which emperor penguins breed; and some studies indicate that emperor populations will decrease by more than 50% over the current century. The researchers therefore recommend that the IUCN status for the species be escalated to ‘vulnerable’; the species is currently listed as ‘near threatened’ on the IUCN Red List. They conclude that improvements in climate change forecasting in relation to impacts on Antarctic wildlife would be beneficial, and recommend that the emperor penguin should be listed by the Antarctic Treaty as a Specially Protected Species.

Lead author Dr Philip Trathan, Head of Conservation Biology at British Antarctic Survey, says:

“The current rate of warming in parts of the Antarctic is greater than anything in the recent glaciological record. Though emperor penguins have experienced periods of warming and cooling over their evolutionary history, the current rates of warming are unprecedented.”

“Currently, we have no idea how the emperors will adjust to the loss of their primary breeding habitat — sea ice. They are not agile and climbing ashore across steep coastal land forms will be difficult. For breeding, they depend upon sea ice, and in a warming world there is a high probability that this will decrease. Without it, they will have little or no breeding habitat.”

Greater protection measures will enable scientists to coordinate research into the penguins’ resilience to a range of different threats and stressors.

Dr Peter Fretwell, remote sensing specialist at British Antarctic Survey and co-author says:

“Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species to give them the best chance.”

The UK, supported by a number of other countries whose researchers have engaged in this scientific work, notified the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting at its 2019 meeting, held in Prague in July, that Emperor Penguins were threatened through the loss of their breeding habitat and that further protections should be developed. A similar paper has also been submitted to this year’s Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which meets in Hobart later this month, where the UK is also supporting a number of proposals to extend the coverage of Marine Protected Areas in the Southern Ocean.

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All penguin species’ genomes sequenced now


This June 2018 video is called All Penguin Species.

From GigaScience:

March of the multiple penguin genomes

September 17, 2019

Published today in the open-access journal GigaScience is an article that presents the first effort to capture the entirety of the genomic landscape of all living penguin species. The Penguin Genome Consortium — bringing together researchers from China, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, South Africa, the UK, the US, France and Germany — has produced 19 high-coverage penguin genome sequences that, together with two previously published genomes, encompass all surviving penguin species. This extensive study provides an unparalleled amount of information that covers an entire biological order, which will promote research in a wide variety of areas from evolution to the impact of human activities and environmental changes.

Penguins are a diverse order of species that span the Southern hemisphere, ranging from the Galápagos Islands on the equator, to the oceanic temperate forests of New Zealand, to the rocky coastlines of the sub-Antarctic islands, finally reaching the sea-ice around Antarctica. This iconic bird group have transitioned from flying seabirds to powerful, flightless marine divers. With their specialized skin and feathers and an enhanced thermoregulation system they are able to inhabit environments from the extreme cold Antarctic sea ice to the tropical Galápagos Islands.

These birds also serve as the figurative “canary in a coal mine”; warning of environmental and climate change. Many penguin populations have experienced rapid declines in recent decades, some having extreme population drops, such as the crash of the King penguin population, which has declined by 88% in just 3 decades. And more penguin species are predicted to decline in the near future. The dwindling populations have been linked to climate warming, environmental degradation, exploitation of the marine environment, fisheries bycatch, pollution, and the introduction of exotic predators. Penguins have thus become the focus of many ecosystem monitoring studies. Having high-quality genomes sequences of all extant penguin species serves as an outstanding new resource for understanding the specific reasons for species population loss.

Author Theresa Cole from the University of Otago in New Zealand says of this work: “The population history of different penguin species can be seen in their genome. We will provide new insights into the population history of all penguins over dramatic climate events, to predict population trends under future climate change scenarios. This research will help us understand how future climate change may affect other species, to help us develop conservation strategies.”

As with the work done on Darwin’s finches, studying the radiation of the 20 penguin species provides similar enlightening case study for researching unique penguin morphological and physiological adaptations. The consortium are also sequencing the genomes of recently extinct penguin taxa, as well as undertaking population genomic studies using multiple genomes per species.

Senior author Guojie Zhang from the University of Copenhagen, BGI, and Kunming Institute of Zoology says of this: “The penguin ancestor experienced rapid radiation leading to the current approximate 20 extant species, accompanied by many ancient lineages that are now extinct. The radiation of penguin thus provides an excellent example for the study of speciation.”

There were logistical challenges to get hold of high-quality specimens for all of these species as many come from some of the most inhospitable and far-flung corners of the globe. However, an additional challenge was cultural rather than technical. The process by which this consortium handled these sensitive issues serves as a model for building trust and collaboration with cultures that have equally important links to other native species.

Co-author Bruce McKinlay from the New Zealand Department of Conservation highlights this, saying: “Genome research in New Zealand is currently moving into novel cultural contexts, especially for penguins, which are Taonga or treasured possessions in M?ori culture. As such, our consortium have undertaken rigorous indigenous consultation to sequence the genomes from six New Zealand Taonga species. We believe these genomes will be important for a cultural context.”

The goal of the first stage of the Penguin Genome Consortium project was purely to sequence high-quality genomes, but initial validation studies have demonstrated these genomes are already producing valuable insight into evolutionary history of the penguin tree of life and the evolutionary patterns of their adaptation to Antarctica. For example, an initial phylogenetic tree presented in this study demonstrates that penguins have adapted to Antarctica on multiple occasions.

This and further comparative and evolutionary genomic analyses are currently being carried out, and the penguin genome consortium welcomes new members interested in joining the open consortium and contributing to this work. While this work is still underway early access to the 19 penguin genomes data has been provided, while the researchers ask groups intending to use this data for similar cross-species comparisons to follow the long running Fort Lauderdale and Toronto rules.

Giant Paleocene penguin discovery in New Zealand


Reconstruction of newly discovered Crossvallia waiparensis penguin, next to human to show size, picture by Canterbury Museum

From the Canterbury Museum in New Zealand:

Monster penguin find in Waipara, New Zealand

August 14, 2019

A new species of giant penguin — about 1.6 metres tall — has been identified from fossils found in Waipara, North Canterbury.

The discovery of Crossvallia waiparensis, a monster penguin from the Paleocene Epoch (between 66 and 56 million years ago), adds to the list of gigantic, but extinct, New Zealand fauna. These include the world’s largest parrot, a giant eagle, giant burrowing bat, the moa and other giant penguins.

C. waiparensis is one of the world’s oldest known penguin species and also one of the largest — taller even than today’s 1.2 metre Emperor Penguin — and weighing up to 70 to 80 kg.

A team comprising Canterbury Museum curators Dr Paul Scofield and Dr Vanesa De Pietri, and Dr Gerald Mayr of Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, analysed the bones and concluded they belonged to a previously unknown penguin species.

In a paper published this week in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology, the team concluded that the closest known relative of C. waiparensis is a fellow Paleocene species Crossvallia unienwillia, which was identified from a fossilised partial skeleton found in the Cross Valley in Antarctica in 2000.

Canterbury Museum Senior Curator Natural History Dr Paul Scofield says finding closely related birds in New Zealand and Antarctica shows our close connection to the icy continent.

“When the Crossvallia species were alive, New Zealand and Antarctica were very different from today — Antarctica was covered in forest and both had much warmer climates,” he says.

The leg bones of both Crossvallia penguins suggest their feet played a greater role in swimming than those of modern penguins, or that they hadn’t yet adapted to standing upright like modern penguins.

C. waiparensis is the fifth ancient penguin species described from fossils uncovered at the Waipara Greensand site.

Dr Gerald Mayr says the Waipara Greensand is arguably the world’s most significant site for penguin fossils from the Paleocene Epoch. “The fossils discovered there have made our understanding of penguin evolution a whole lot clearer,” he says. “There’s more to come, too — more fossils which we think represent new species are still awaiting description.”

Dr Vanesa De Pietri, Canterbury Museum Research Curator Natural History, says discovering a second giant penguin from the Paleocene Epoch is further evidence that early penguins were huge. “It further reinforces our theory that penguins attained a giant size very early in their evolution,” she says.

The fossils of several giant species, including C. waiparensis, will be displayed in a new exhibition about prehistoric New Zealand at Canterbury Museum later this year.

This research was partly supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Marsden Fund.

Endangered South African penguins, video


This 29 July 2019 video says about itself:

Endangered Penguins of South Africa – 360 | National Geographic

The populations of African penguins, a species of penguins found along the coasts of South Africa and Namibia, are declining largely due to the depletion of fish stocks in the sea, and habitat encroachment. See them in their natural habitat and how the injured or abandoned of these seabirds are being rehabilitated.

Sponges help studying penguin, seal, fish DNA


This 2016 video says about itself:

Sponges: Oldest Creatures in the Sea? – Full Episode

Until recently there was a scientific consensus that sponges were the first animals to branch off the “Animal Tree of Life”, a kind of family tree for all living and extinct animals on earth. But recent DNA research has cast doubt on that theory, with some scientists suggesting that ctenophores, also known as comb jellies, are an older lineage.

From ScienceDaily:

Sponges collect penguin, seal, and fish DNA from the water they filter

June 3, 2019

Just like humans leave DNA in the places we inhabit, water-dwelling animals leave DNA behind in the water column. In a paper published June 3 in the journal Current Biology, scientists report that sponges, which can filter 10,000 liters of water daily, catch DNA in their tissues as they filter-feed. This proof-of-concept study identified fish, seal, and penguin DNA in sponges from the Antarctic and Mediterranean, demonstrating that sponges can be used to monitor biodiversity.

“Sponges are ideal sampling units because you find them everywhere and in every aquatic habitat, including freshwater,” says Stefano Mariani, a marine ecologist and population geneticist at the University of Salford. “Also, they’re not very selective filter-feeders, they don’t run away, and they don’t get hurt by sampling — you can just grab a piece, and they will regenerate nicely.”

Additionally, the authors found that the presence of sponge DNA did not interfere with their ability to identify the DNA of other species caught within its tissue. Instead, they found that by using a particular DNA primer, which is a short sequence of nucleic acid that probes the DNA of specific organisms, they could selectively amplify vertebrate DNA while avoiding amplifying the sponge’s DNA itself.

Using this process in tandem with metabarcoding, which sorts the jumble of DNA from the tissue sample into distinguishable, species-specific piles, Mariani and his team were able to identify 31 taxa. Mostly, the species identified were fish, but one sponge sample from Antarctica included DNA from Weddell seals and chinstrap penguins. The sample was later identified to be located offshore of a penguin breeding colony. “This was a really exciting find and also makes a lot of sense,” says Mariani, “because the penguins would be in and out of the water a lot, eating, swimming, and pooing.”

Currently, machines with large water-sampling capabilities are being developed to allow scientists to sample DNA from water, but the authors think using a natural sampler could be just as effective. Because the DNA found in water is extremely diluted, it needs to undergo extensive filtering — but with filtering, Mariani warns, comes the danger of DNA contamination. Further, preserving water samples risks degrading the DNA. Sponge tissue, however, has already filtered out the water, greatly reducing both the processing time as well as the risk of contamination.

Further, bringing machines into some regions might not be feasible and may be too disruptive to fragile ecosystems. “If you want to study an endangered species of sawfish or a manatee in a mangrove forest in Mozambique, you can’t go there with massive robots. You have to use a very low-tech approach,” Mariani says.

Moving forward, the authors would like to investigate the ability of other animals to act as DNA samplers, particularly in open waters where sponges are either rare or unreachable by humans for sampling. Mariani suggests that other organisms such as jelly fish or salps, which also sieve water but float through the water column, may be more accessible in the open ocean.

Ultimately, the authors’ goal is to improve how environmental DNA is collected in order to better monitor biodiversity in areas that may not be suitable for other methods. Determining whether sponges are more effective in capturing the biodiversity of an area over pre-existing methods, however, will require further research, but the authors say this paper is the first step in answering that question. “I am hopeful that this method will prove itself to be useful,” Mariani says. “It’s the quintessential environmentally friendly biodiversity assessment tool.”

The authors acknowledge support from a UK NERC grant.

Whaling, terrible for whales, benefited some birds


This 2017 video says about itself:

Blue whales are the largest animals to have ever existed. Learn why they’re larger than any land animal and why they were hunted for years, making them endangered.

Recently, a Dutch book was published, called Een zee van traan • Vier eeuwen Nederlandse walvisvaart, 1612-1964, by Jaap R. Bruijn and Louwrens Hacquebord. It is about the history of Dutch whaling.

The killing of millions of whales was a disaster for many whale species. However, this meant, the authors say, that some other animal species eating krill, small sea snails or other animals formerly eaten by whales might increase. In the Antarctic, some penguin species did increase. In the Arctic, little auks increased.

This 2015 video from the Arctic says about itself:

Big Trouble for Little Birds | National Geographic

Franz Josef Land is home to 50 species of seabirds. One of them, the little auk, has seen a drop in body mass in recent years. Enric Sala and the Pristine Seas team investigate the possible causes to help save the species.