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Australian scientists observe ‘fast’ decline in Adélie penguin numbers off Antarctic coast


Scientists on the Australian Antarctic Division have recorded a extreme decline in a inhabitants of Adélie penguins off the east Antarctic coast.

Lengthy-term monitoring has revealed a 43% drop over a decade within the variety of birds that breed throughout 52 islands close to the Mawson analysis station.

The scientists say the decline is a stark distinction to different Adélie penguin populations in east Antarctica the place numbers have been secure or growing.

It is usually opposite to fashions that had predicted a continued improve on this explicit inhabitants, as had occurred in earlier many years.

To gather the info, seabird ecologists surveyed the islands alongside a 100km stretch of shoreline yearly from 2010 to 2020 to observe breeding pairs.

They discovered the variety of occupied nests fell from 176,622 to 99,946, which interprets to a decline of about 77,000 nests or 154,000 breeding birds.

Dr Louise Emmerson, a seabird ecologist, stated the sharp drop in numbers was just like the declines seen in Adélie populations on the Antarctic peninsula, the place the consequences of fishing, local weather change and different human actions have been most evident on the species.

The scientists consider it’s a change in environmental circumstances that has triggered the “fast” decline of the Mawson inhabitants.

In analysis revealed in International Change Biology, Emmerson and co-author Colin Southwell wrote that preliminary declines have been doubtless attributable to a interval of in depth summer season “quick ice” – which is ice that’s connected to land however covers sea water – from 2004-05 to 2009-10.

They are saying this hampered entry to foraging habitat leading to nearly no chicks surviving in these years.

There was an total decline in quick ice in Antarctica, nonetheless scientists have famous there may be regional variability, with declines detected in some areas and will increase in others.

“Usually [the penguins] need to stroll throughout the quick ice to open water to go foraging,” Emmerson stated.

“Chicks are solely 90 grams after they first hatch. They’re tiny issues and at that stage they require frequent small meals.”

She stated the in depth quick ice meant mother and father needed to journey additional for meals and didn’t get again as shortly and continuously as their chicks wanted.

Because the frequency of unfavourable breeding circumstances remained excessive, the variety of fledglings surviving after they left the colony throughout winter additionally started to lower.

“We predict the explanation this decline has been so fast is there are two processes occurring: one on the breeding animals over the summer season and the opposite on the inhabitants leaving the colony over winter,” she stated.

“These two processes are feeding into one another, in order the inhabitants declined it has made the scenario an entire lot worse for his or her survival.”

The researchers estimate the inhabitants in breeding season had 80,000 fewer fledglings in comparison with the inhabitants peak within the early 2000s.

Jane Youthful, a lecturer on the College of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Research, stated fledglings labored collectively as a group to to search out meals.

When the group was smaller, the penguins have been extra susceptible to predators and have been much less efficient at discovering and consuming prey.

“It’s type of a cascading factor that’s occurred the place there’s the preliminary decline within the variety of chicks and since there’s fewer of them, they’re extra susceptible,” she stated.

Youthful stated the magnitude of the decline the researchers had discovered within the Mawson inhabitants was “shocking and disturbing”.

“I don’t assume anybody would have anticipated this,” she stated.

Emmerson stated the following step was to proceed analysis to know the drivers of fledgling survival of their first winter journey and to minimise any stress on the inhabitants from actions on the Mawson station.

She stated any fisheries actions would additionally must be managed rigorously.

This article by Lisa Cox was first revealed by The Guardian on 11 October 2022. Lead Picture: Monitoring has revealed a 43% drop over a decade within the variety of Adélie penguins breeding throughout 52 islands close to the Mawson analysis station. {Photograph}: Australian Antarctic Division.

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