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Audio: Documenting emperor penguin populations, a dispatch from Antarctica

  • On this episode we get an update direct from Antarctica’s McMurdo Station about ongoing work to document Emperor penguin populations, an important indicator species of the Southern Ocean’s health.
  • Our guest is Michelle Larue, a research ecologist at the University of Minnesota who is helping lead a project that’s using satellite imagery together with ground and flight surveys to compile population estimates for each of the 54 known Emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica. The project’s goal is to compile population estimates every year for an entire decade.
  • LaRue, who has been to Antarctica multiple times to help assemble a decadal-scale dataset on Emperor penguin colonies, tells us what it’s like to work out of McMurdo Station, how she’s going about studying Emperor penguin population trends, and why the study of these flightless aquatic birds can help us keep tabs on the health of the Southern Ocean.

On this episode we get an update direct from Antarctica’s McMurdo Station about ongoing work to document emperor penguin populations, an important indicator species of the Southern Ocean’s health.

Listen here:

 

Our guest is Dr. Michelle LaRue, a research ecologist at the University of Minnesota who is leading a research project that’s using satellite imagery together with ground and flight surveys to compile population estimates for each of the 54 known emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica. The project’s goal is to compile population estimates every year for an entire decade.

When we spoke, LaRue had just arrived at McMurdo Station, a United States Antarctic research center situated at the southern tip of Ross Island, in Antarctica’s McMurdo Sound. It’s the start of the season during which LaRue and team fly in helicopters and planes to create high-res aerial photographs of several penguin colonies near McMurdo Station, which allows them to verify the population counts conducted via satellite imagery.

In 2012, LaRue was part of a research team that published the first global estimate of the emperor penguin population using satellite remote sensing. With that research providing baseline data, the aim now is to make population estimates at a more localized scale for the 54 known emperor penguin colonies on the Antarctic continent, which in turn will help us better understand the species’ population dynamics and how they’re affected by environmental conditions.

LaRue is a repeat guest on the show (listen to our discussion about her fascinating Weddell seal research here) who has been to Antarctica multiple times to help assemble a decadal-scale dataset on emperor penguin colonies, tells us what it’s like to work out of McMurdo Station, how she’s going about studying emperor penguin population trends, and why the study of these flightless aquatic birds can help us keep tabs on the health of the Southern Ocean. You can read more about the project on its official blog.

Here’s this episode’s top news:

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Adult emperor penguins with chicks. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

CITATION
• Fretwell, P. T., LaRue, M. A., Morin, P., Kooyman, G. L., Wienecke, B., Ratcliffe, N., … & Trathan, P. N. (2012). An emperor penguin population estimate: the first global, synoptic survey of a species from space. PLoS One, 7(4), e33751. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033751

Follow Mike Gaworecki on Twitter: @mikeg2001

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