A new study led by the University of Minnesota offers new insights on the long-term future of emperor penguins by showing that the penguins may be behaving in ways that allow them to adapt to their changing environment better than we expected.
Researchers have long thought that emperor penguins were philopatric, which means they would return to the same location to nest each year. The new research study used satellite images to show that penguins may not be faithful to previous nesting locations.
Researchers involved in the new study found six instances in just three years in which emperor penguins did not return to the same location to breed. They also report on one newly discovered colony on the Antarctic Peninsula that may represent the relocation of penguins.
University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering researcher and the study's lead author Michelle LaRue shared her findings at the IDEACITY conference in Toronto on June 20. The study will also be published in an upcoming issue of Ecography, a professional journal publishing research in spatial ecology, macroecology and biogeography.
"Our research showing that colonies seem to appear and disappear throughout the years challenges behaviors we thought we understood about emperor penguins," said LaRue. "If we assume that these birds come back to the same locations every year, without fail, these new colonies we see on satellite images wouldn't make any sense. These birds didn't just appear out of thin airthey had to have come from somewhere else. This suggests that emperor penguins move among colonies. That means we need to revisit how we interpret population changes and the causes of those changes."
Emperor penguins are a well-studied species and have recently been elevated to celebrity status with movies like "Happy Feet" and the documentary "March of the Penguins."
The "March of the Penguins" colony is called Pointe Gologie an
|Contact: Rhonda Zurn|
University of Minnesota