BY Tricia Vance
FEBRUARY 15, 2016
Antarctica’s most populous colony of Adélie penguins once may have been nearly twice the size it is today, UNCW biology and marine biology professor Steven D. Emslie and his research team discovered on a recent trip to the continent. Clues about why the colony grew so large and what has since caused a population decline could help scientists chart the penguins’ response to changes in climate and food resources.
During a mid-January research excursion to Cape Adare in the northern Ross Sea,Emslie found evidence that the colony, consisting of more than 338,000 breeding pair on a lower terrace, had once also covered the vast upper terrace. As large as that number sounds, Emslie conservatively estimates the former “supercolony” at Cape Adare once included more than 500,000 breeding pairs, or more than 1 million penguins.
His assessment, based on an examination of abandoned nesting sites, stems from collaborative research conducted by UNCW, Louisiana State University and the University of California at Santa Cruz under grants from the National Science Foundation totaling nearly $1.28 million. The University of Saskatchewan also is a participant in the research.