Penguins and their chicks' responses to local fish numbers informs marine conservation | 7/7/2015 | Staff
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How adult penguins fish and the body condition of their chicks are directly linked to local fish abundance, and could potentially inform fishery management, a new study has found.

The researchers studied an endangered African penguin colony during a rare three-year closure of commercial fisheries around Robben Island, South Africa, and their findings are published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Fishing - Drivers - Biodiversity - Loss - Ocean

Fishing is often considered to be one of the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss in the ocean. It is so widespread that we lack an understanding of the 'natural' relationships between marine predators and their prey, and thus the extent to which predators are disrupted by competition from fisheries.

This is a critical knowledge gap since many marine predators such as penguins are considered indicator species: a species whose success indicates the condition of their habitat.

Dr - Kate - Campbell - Research - University

Dr. Kate Campbell, who led the research at the University of Cape Town as part of her Ph.D. project, said: "Understanding how African penguins forage to feed their chicks in their variable marine environment can help us identify conservation measures for these endangered populations."

"A three-year commercial fisheries closure around Robben Island, South Africa created a unique opportunity to study how African penguins directly respond to natural changes in local abundance of their prey—anchovies and sardines", she added.

Researchers - Fluctuations - Populations - Years - Fisheries

The researchers estimated fluctuations in prey fish populations over three years within the fisheries closure zone (20km radius around Robben Island) using 12 hydro-acoustic surveys, which detect the presence of anchovies and sardines by bouncing sound waves off their swim bladders (gas-filled organs).

Over the same time period researchers used GPS-temperature-depth loggers to monitor adult penguins' fishing behaviours for one trip to sea per breeding season. At the...
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