Saturday 16 December 2017

Team measures penguin stress levels

King penguins from the Crozet Archipelago, as scientists found evidence of stressed penguins deserting colonies
King penguins from the Crozet Archipelago, as scientists found evidence of stressed penguins deserting colonies

Scientists have uncovered a case of not so happy feet in penguin populations stressed by human activity.

Researchers tested the stress responses of King penguins in colonies disturbed by humans over 50 years.

They were compared with other King penguins living in areas not visited by humans.

Penguins from the disturbed colonies were better able to cope with the sight of approaching humans, loud noises, and being captured.

Natural selection must have helped them adjust, scientists believe. Over time, stress-sensitive penguins were likely to have walked away and deserted the disturbed colonies, leaving the more resilient individuals behind.

"Our findings report a case of physiological adjustment to human presence in a long-studied King penguin colony, and emphasise the importance of considering potential effects of human presence in ecological studies," said lead scientist Dr Vincent Viblanc, from the University of Strasbourg in France.

"A central question for ecologists is the extent to which anthropogenic disturbances (eg tourism) might impact wildlife and affect the systems under study.

"One of the major pitfalls of such research is in forgetting that, from the perspective of the wildlife studied, tourism and scientific research are not two worlds apart."

The research is published in the online journal BMC Ecology.

Scientists carried out the study on Possession Island in the sub-Antarctic Crozet Archipelago.

Press Association

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