Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Thursday, April 19, 2007

King Penguins may help monitor climate change

From today's Live Science:

King penguins could help scientists monitor the effects of climate change. Scientists at the University of Birmingham are investigating whether the penguins can be used as bio-indicators.

“If penguins are traveling further or diving deeper for food, that tells us something about the availability of particular fish in regions of the Antarctic,” said one of the researchers Lewis Halsey who presented study results at the annual meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology in Glasgow.

“We may be able to assess the pressure exerted by king penguins on this ecosystem, and look at the effects of both climate change and over-fishing in this region of the world,” Halsey added.

King penguins are good candidates as bio-indicators for several reasons. For instance, while foraging they cover hundreds of kilometers and dive to depths of several hundred meters, so they explore large swaths of the Southern Oceans. Plus, since they come ashore to molt, the penguins are accessible to researchers. Since their diets are well known, scientists can keep track of certain fish populations by monitoring the penguins’ health and food consumption.

It's not like this research is going to really help the penguins--just give us clues about climate by how it affects them. But penguins are a charismatic, popular species, so if they are being hurt, Americans are maybe a little more likely to do something about the problem than if they were, say, Sage Grouse, which we're doing very little about despite their dangerously low numbers. Anyway, read the whole article here.