Dinosaurs became extinct, penguins survived


This 14 August 2019 video says about itself:

Researchers at Canterbury Museum in New Zealand say they found the fossils of a penguin that stood more than five feet tall.

That was then. And now …

From Flinders University in Australia:

When penguins ruled after dinosaurs died

Chatham Island provides missing link in evolution

December 9, 2019

What waddled on land but swam supremely in subtropical seas more than 60 million years ago, after the dinosaurs were wiped out on sea and land?

Fossil records show giant human-sized penguins flew through Southern Hemisphere waters — along side smaller forms, similar in size to some species that live in Antarctica today.

Now the newly described Kupoupou stilwelli has been found on the geographically remote Chatham Islands in the southern Pacific near New Zealand’s South Island. It appears to be the oldest penguin known with proportions close to its modern relatives.

It lived between 62.5 million and 60 million years ago at a time when there was no ice cap at the South Pole and the seas around New Zealand were tropical or subtropical.

Flinders University PhD palaeontology candidate and University of Canterbury graduate Jacob Blokland made the discovery after studying fossil skeletons collected from Chatham Island between 2006 and 2011.

He helped build a picture of an ancient penguin that bridges a gap between extinct giant penguins and their modern relatives.

“Next to its colossal human-sized cousins, including the recently described monster penguin Crossvallia waiparensis, Kupoupou was comparatively small — no bigger than modern King Penguins which stand just under 1.1 metres tall,” says Mr Blokland, who worked with Professor Paul Scofield and Associate Professor Catherine Reid, as well as Flinders palaeontologist Associate Professor Trevor Worthy on the discovery.

“Kupoupou also had proportionally shorter legs than some other early fossil penguins. In this respect, it was more like the penguins of today, meaning it would have waddled on land.

“This penguin is the first that has modern proportions both in terms of its size and in its hind limb and foot bones (the tarsometatarsus) or foot shape.”

As published in the US journal Palaeontologica Electronica, the animal’s scientific name acknowledges the Indigenous Moriori people of the Chatham Island (Rēkohu), with Kupoupou meaning ‘diving bird’ in Te Re Moriori.

The discovery may even link the origins of penguins themselves to the eastern region of New Zealand — from the Chatham Island archipelago to the eastern coast of the South Island, where other most ancient penguin fossils have been found, 800km away.

University of Canterbury adjunct Professor Scofield, Senior Curator of Natural History at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, says the paper provides further support for the theory that penguins rapidly evolved shortly after the period when dinosaurs still walked the land and giant marine reptiles swam in the sea.

“We think it’s likely that the ancestors of penguins diverged from the lineage leading to their closest living relatives — such as albatross and petrels — during the Late Cretaceous period, and then many different species sprang up after the dinosaurs were wiped out,” Professor Scofield says

“It’s not impossible that penguins lost the ability to fly and gained the ability to swim after the extinction event of 66 million years ago, implying the birds underwent huge changes in a very short time. If we ever find a penguin fossil from the Cretaceous period, we’ll know for sure.”

BACKGROUND: The new species is based on the fossilised bones of five partial skeletons. Another two specimens showed a second larger penguin species was also present on the main Chatham Island but there was not enough material to formally name it. All of the described skeletons were collected between 2006 and 2011 by a group led by Monash University palaeontologist Jeffrey Stilwell. Dr Alan Tennyson from Te Papa Tongarewa the Museum of New Zealand and Professor Julia Clark from University of Texas at Austin were in the group and are also-coauthors of the paper. The species is named after Associate Professor Stilwell with all specimens now cared for by Te Papa.

Artist's impression of the newly discovered fossil penguin

I visited the Chatham islands. But I did not know about that fossil penguin then.

Antarctic penguins, Robert Falcon Scott till today


This 13 January 2018 video is called Antarctica Ross Sea. Part 21. Cape Adare. Adélie Penguins mating.

By Carolyn Gramling, December 6, 2019 at 10:00 am:

‘A Polar Affair’ delves into a centurylong cover-up of penguin sex

A new book surveys penguin biology and Antarctic exploration history

A Polar Affair
Lloyd Spencer Davis
Pegasus Books, $29.95

On March 29, 1912, British explorer Robert Falcon Scott wrote the final diary entry of his ill-fated quest to reach the South Pole. That same day, more than 350 kilometers away, naval surgeon and zoologist George Murray Levick was hunkered down within a snowbank at Cape Adare, observing Adélie penguins.

Levick had accompanied Scott to Antarctica, but was not one of the five expedition members on the final trek to the pole. The return journey claimed the lives of all five. Levick survived the expedition, however, and in 1914, published a manuscript summarizing his observations — the first scientific descriptions of Antarctic penguins.

But he left something out.

During his months observing Adélie penguins, which included an entire breeding cycle, Levick witnessed the birds engaging in same-sex mating rituals. He also saw the birds engage in a variety of other sexual behaviors that in humans we might call promiscuity, infidelity, even prostitution. Levick recorded these scandalous details in a second manuscript, “The sexual habits of the Adélie penguin”, in 1915. But the manuscript was stamped “Not for Publication” and remained unpublished for nearly a century.

In 2012, the manuscript resurfaced in a scientific journal. Penguin biologist and author Lloyd Spencer Davis, who had thought he was the first to record same-sex behavior in Antarctic penguins in 1996, was dismayed and intrigued. So Davis embarked on a personal quest to understand how and why Levick’s observations had been buried in the first place — seemingly by his own wishes.

The result of that quest is Davis’ book A Polar Affair, an entertaining, chatty and sometimes salacious romp through polar exploration history, penguin biology and Victorian mores.

Each of the book’s five sections opens with a brief essay — Homosexuality, Divorce, Infidelity, Rape, Prostitution — that highlights how tempting it can be, whether in Victorian or modern times, to view penguin sexual behaviors through an anthropomorphic lens.

But the driving force of A Polar Affair isn’t really to understand these sexual behaviors, Davis writes. Instead, what he really wants to understand is “why Murray Levick would discover the dirty side of penguins and then try to cover it up.”

Davis delves into Levick’s personal history, hunting down his field notes and retracing his long, frostbitten months studying Cape Adare’s penguin colony.

Davis’ investigations are interspersed with a sweeping history of polar exploration that is by turns fascinating and frustrating. He also includes stories from his own penguin studies. The narrative meanders through the exploits of a wide-ranging cast of explorers who have since lent their names to bits of Antarctica’s geography, from James Clark Ross to Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen.

Early expeditions led to key innovations to manage challenges such as the bitter cold and ever-present nutrient deprivation. And many of those innovations, we learn, came to bear in the 1911–1912 race to the South Pole between Robert Falcon Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen. (Amundsen got there first, beating Scott by about one month.) This rich and often intimate history can be riveting stuff. But much of it is also well-trodden ground, and at times, I found myself flipping ahead, wanting to get back to Levick and his penguins.

Other digressions, though, particularly Davis’ discussions of whether there are evolutionary benefits to penguins’ same-sex mating or nonmonogamous behaviors, are fascinating. Is same-sex mating a case of mistaken identity, in that male and female penguins are monomorphic, looking much alike? Is promiscuity among penguins related to the female’s inclination to build a stronger nest, one that is shored up by stones earned through offering sex?

These are questions with which Davis and other penguin biologists still wrestle. And A Polar Affair doesn’t come to a tidy answer for why Levick suppressed his most startling findings. But the book’s unique approach to polar exploration history makes for an engaging read. And by the end, Davis does come to terms with his need to understand his predecessor and with his own dismay at being scooped a century ago. The journey in discovery, he suggests, was satisfying. “It doesn’t really matter who was the first to see a bit of male-on-male action in penguins,” he writes, “any more than it probably matters who was first to stand on an arbitrary piece of ice and drive a flagpole into it.”

Chinstrap penguins drive away skua egg thief


This 26 October 2019 video from the Antarctic says about itself:

Chinstrap Penguins Chase Off Daring Egg Thief | Seven Worlds, One Planet | BBC Earth

Skuas will eat penguin eggs if they get the chance, but these chinstrap penguins are having none of it! Behind the scenes from David Attenborough‘s Seven Worlds, One Planet.

‘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.

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.