2015-2016 Science Planning Summaries
United States Antarctic Program United States Antarctic Program Logo National Science Foundation Logo
2015-2016 USAP Field Season
Project Detail

Project Title

Adélie penguin response to climate change at the individual, colony, and metapopulation levels

Adélie penguin response to climate change at the individual, colony, and metapopulation levels


Event Number:

Program Manager:
Dr. Christian Fritsen

ASC POC/Implementer:
Sune Tamm / Ryan Wallace

Principal Investigator

Dr. David Ainley

H.T. Harvey & Associates
Los Gatos, California

Project Web Site:
http://www.penguinscience.com External Web Site


Supporting Stations: McMurdo Station
Research Locations: Capes Crozier and Royds


Since 1996, this study has involved novel technology and experimentation including natural experiments and long hours finding banded birds at three colonies of widely disparate sizes occurring in a metapopulation. While changes in populations typically are tracked to gauge response to climate or habitat change, the process actually involves the response of individuals as each copes with an altered environment. During this study spanning 15 breeding seasons, researchers have found that 20 percent of individuals within a colony successfully raise offspring, and that they do so because of exemplary foraging proficiency. Moreover, foraging requires more effort at the largest colony, where intra-specific competition is higher than at small colonies and requires more proficiency during periods of environmental stress, e.g., anomalous sea-ice conditions. Not only is breeding success and eventual recruitment involved in this species’ response to environmental change, but, when conditions are particularly daunting, so is emigration, countering the long-standing assumption that Adélie penguins are highly philopatric. This project is a collaboration of six co-PIs from the United States, New Zealand, and France and will continue the outreach and education program, including webisodes and PenguinScience.com.

Field Season Overview

The project continues an effort begun in 1996. Based out of McM Station, we will deploy camps to Capes Crozier and Royds. We will remain mostly at our two field camps, with different team members (2-3) at each; some switching of persons perhaps among camps during the season. Our field season will be from late Nov until late January, which covers most of the Adelie Penguin nesting season. We will be spending a lot of effort hiking about looking for penguins previously banded as chicks, logging their breeding status as well. We will continue our operation of computerized weighbridges to log trip duration and food loads at Crozier. This species of penguin does not mature until 3-8 years of age, thus, even after 19 years, we are just beginning to see oldest breeders among the birds we have banded each year as chicks.

Work on the educational 'Penguin Science' webisodes and website will continue through our efforts at Cape Royds. The educational program as developed in previous seasons will continue during this one.

Deploying Team Members

  • David Ainley (PI)
  • Katie Dugger (Co-PI)
  • Megan Elrod
  • Amelie Lescroel
  • Jean Pennycook
  • Anne Schmidt
  • Arvind Varsani