Tuesday 22 December 2009
Penguins’ DNA is being used for the first time to study how they migrate between colonies.
Researchers from ZSL and the University of Sheffield have identified genetic markers that can be used to track the movement of penguins and ultimately determine whether Antarctica’s changing climate is driving them from their favoured breeding sites.
By collecting penguin feathers and extracting their DNA, scientists can now determine the relatedness between different birds within a colony, enabling them to follow the movement of individuals and populations.
The markers have already been used to make a population map of macaroni penguins around South Georgia and are now being expanded to all species of penguin on the Antarctic Peninsula.
ZSL’s own penguinologist, Tom Hart says: “Knowing how penguins are responding to climate change is vital to conservation efforts. If we understand how their populations are changing, we can do something about it, such as making sure that our protected areas are in the right place for penguins in 100 years time.”
Penguins are not only threatened by climate change, but are also under increasing pressure from direct competition with fisheries. Studying them is notoriously difficult because they live in very harsh environments and are hard to track. This new monitoring tool enables scientists to follow their populations and address the threats that they face.
Tom Hart is now launching a series of expeditions to collect samples and plot how penguins move around the Southern Ocean.