Emperor Penguin poop gives them away

Emperor Penguin by National Science FoundationWho would have guessed, British scientists have mapped out the distribution of Emperor Penguin colonies by analysing their guano stains via satellite. According to a British Antarctic Survey press release, scientists noticed reddish-brown stains on satellite images that corresponded with the location of Emperor colonies. Further analysis revealed 37 colonies in total.

© British Antarctic Survey

© British Antarctic Survey

The researchers plan to monitor these colonies within the context of climate change. Because Emperors only breed on sea ice a change in their breeding patterns could reflect a reduction in habitat loss through ice melt.

Here’s a portion of the press release from the British Antarctic Survey:

BAS Mapping expert Peter Fretwell explains: “We can’t see actual penguins on the satellite maps because the resolution isn’t good enough. But during the breeding season the birds stay at a colony for eight months. The ice gets pretty dirty and it’s the guano stains that we can see.” Emperor penguins spend a large part of their lives at sea. During the Antarctic winter when temperatures drop to -50°C they return to their colonies to breed on sea-ice, but this is a time when it is most difficult for scientists to monitor them. BAS Penguin ecologist Dr Phil Trathan says: “This is a very exciting development. Now we know exactly where the penguins are, the next step will be to count each colony so we can get a much better picture of population size. Using satellite images combined with counts of penguin numbers puts us in a much better position to monitor future population changes over time.” [more here]

Here’s an interesting fact from the British Antarctic Survey website:

Emperor penguins may be the only bird never to set foot on land. They even breed on frozen sea.

Read more about Emperor Penguin here.

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