Emperor penguins counted from space
Published: 13th Apr 2012 23:11:47
Nearly twice as many emperor penguins inhabit Antarctica as was thought.
UK, US and Australian scientists used satellite technology to trace and count the iconic birds, finding them to number almost 600,000.
Their census technique relies in the first instance on locating individual colonies, which is done by looking for big brown patches of guano (penguin poo) on the white ice.
High resolution imagery is then used to work out the number of birds present.
It is expected that the satellite mapping approach will provide the means to monitor the long-term health of the emperor population.
Climate modelling has suggested their numbers could fall in the decades ahead if warming around Antarctica erodes the sea ice on which the animals nest and launch their forays for seafood.
"If we want to understand whether emperor penguins are endangered by climate change, we have to know first how many birds there are currently and have a methodology to monitor them year on year," said Peter Fretwell from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).
"This study gives us that baseline population, which is quite surprising because it's twice as many as we thought, but it also gives us the ability to follow their progress to see if that population is changing over time," he told BBC News.
The scientists have reported their work in the journal PLoS One.
Their survey identified 44 key penguin colonies on the White Continent, including seven that had not previously been recognised.
Although finding a great splurge of penguin poo on the ice is a fairly straightforward - if laborious - process, counting individual birds in a group huddle is not, even in the highest resolution satellite pictures.
This means the team therefore had to calibrate their analysis of the colonies by using ground counts and aerial photography at some select sites.
Peter Fretwell explains how his team counted penguins
Fretwell and colleagues totted 595,000 penguins, which is almost double the previous estimates of 270,000-350,000 emperors. The count is thought to be the first comprehensive census of a species taken from space.
Co-author Michelle LaRue from the University of Minnesota said the monitoring method provided "an enormous step forward in Antarctic ecology".
"We can conduct research safely and efficiently with little environmental impact," she explained.
"The implications for this study are far-reaching. We now have a cost-effective way to apply our methods to other poorly understood species in the Antarctic."
The extent of sea ice in the Antarctic has been relatively stable in recent years (unlike in the Arctic), although this picture hides some fairly large regional variations.
Nonetheless, computer modelling suggests a warming of the climate around Antarctica could result in the loss of more northern ice floes later this century.
If that happens, it might present problems for some emperor colonies if the seasonal ice starts to break up before fledglings have had a chance to acquire their full adult, waterproof plumage.
And given that the krill (tiny crustaceans) that penguins feed on are also dependent on the ice for their own existence (they feed on algae on the ice) - some colonies affected by eroded floes could face a double-whammy of high fledgling mortality and restricted food resources. But this can all now be tested by the methodology outlined in the PLoS paper.
"The emperor penguin has evolved into a very narrow ecological niche; it's an animal that breeds in the coldest environment in the world," explained Peter Fretwell.
"It currently has an advantage in that environment because there are no predators and no competition for its food.
"If Antarctica warms so that predators and competitors can move in, then their ecological niche no longer exists; and that spells bad news for the emperor penguin."
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Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. Emperor penguins counted from space [Online] (Updated 13th Apr 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1422289/Emperor-penguins-counted-from-space [Accessed 23rd Apr 2014]
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With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
The Iron Curtain fell 25 years ago, but it seems that nobody told the deer.