Penguins gather on ice by a rock

“Adélie penguins on sea ice next to Comb Island, Danger Islands, Antarctica”

– Credit: Michael Polito, © Louisiana State University

BATON ROUGE - It’s Penguin Awareness Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness around one of the most recognizable, and also most threatened, groups of seabirds.

LSU scientists Michael Polito and Chantel Michelson are part of a team of researchers from LSU, University of Rhode Island, University of North Carolina Wilmington, University of California Santa Cruz, University of Saskatchewan, and University of Colorado that have spent many years visiting colonies of Adélie penguins around Antarctica. These penguins, like many species, are affected by a warming climate. The research team wanted to learn more about the diets of these birds, and how they have responded to environmental change in the Southern Ocean over the past 8,000 years.

In a recent study, these researchers analyzed an 8,000-year-old archive of penguin eggshells collected from Antarctica to track penguins diets and oceanographic conditions over time. They found that Adélie penguins moved lower on the food web over the last 8,000 years, as the bird’s diets gradually shifted to include fewer fish and more of the shrimp like creature, Antarctic krill. This research also identified a major shift in nutrient cycling at the base of the Southern Ocean food web within the last 400 years associated with a cooling period called the Little Ice Age.

These results demonstrate the significant role of global climate to penguins and other animals living in the waters around Antarctica. In addition, it suggests that the birds’ diets may change further under the influence of current and predicted ocean warming, a loss of sea ice, and other conditions, namely the growing Antarctic krill fishery and the rebounding seal and whale populations.