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The health of penguin chicks points scientists to changes in the ocean

22 / 05 / 2019, Mongabaycom News

It’s hard to imagine how the oceans might operate without the sway of human activity. The recent assessment by the U.N. Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services found that we’ve impacted 66 percent of the ocean in some way. Industrial-scale fishing, for example, can make it difficult for ecologists to understand the natural relationships that underpin predator-prey relationships unperturbed by human influence. But a recent experimental shutdown of commercial fishing around South Africa’s Robben Island has given scientists a unique window into the details of one such relationship, demonstrating the impact that the availability of prey fish has on the behavior and health of endangered African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) absent pressure from humans. An adult African penguin guarding chicks at the Robben Island colony in South Africa. Image courtesy of Earthwatch South African Penguins Project and the British Ecological Society. “Understanding how African penguins forage to feed their chicks in their variable marine environment can help us identify conservation measures for these endangered populations,” Kate Campbell, an ecologist at the University of Cape Town and the leader of the research, said in a statement. “A three-year commercial fisheries closure around Robben Island created a unique opportunity to study how African penguins directly respond to natural changes in local abundance of their prey — anchovies and sardines.” Campbell and her colleagues found that the more fish were available, the better the condition of the penguin chicks that rely on their parents for food. Outside of those times of plenty,…

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