Adélie penguins form a backdrop for Scripps graduate student researcher Jefferson Hinke, pictured near the Polish Antarctic Station in Admiralty Bay.
Scripps Student Part of Research Team Uncovering Why Penguin Numbers are Plummeting
Jefferson Hinke got a taste of Antarctica in 2005, research continues today
Scripps Institution of Oceanography/University of California, San DiegoA Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego graduate student is part of a research team calling attention to climate change and connections to the dwindling supply of food available to plunging penguin populations at the bottom of the world.
Based on 30 years of data and recent field expeditions,
researchers from NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center as well as Scripps
graduate student Jefferson Hinke believe the declining availability of tiny
crustaceans called krill is responsible for steady drops in Antarctic chinstrap
and Adélie penguins.
“Long thought to be ecological winners in the climate-warming scenario, the chinstrap penguin instead may be among the most vulnerable species affected by a warming climate,” the authors write in their paper, published in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Because penguins are a dominant consumer of krill and fish in the Southern Ocean, their population fluctuations can provide key information about the entire state of the Antarctic ecosystem. Based on their findings, the researchers have called for increased monitoring and status reviews of the penguin populations in the area.
For Hinke, who has
participated in six expeditions to Antarctica, the most interesting aspect of
the research was the team’s ability to use details of their focused studies in
Antarctica’s Admiralty Bay and, in conjunction with data collected across a
wider scale, make broader conclusions across the penguin habitat.
Hinke’s southward travels have taken him to the Falklands, South Georgia, and into the Weddell Sea. During Antarctic expeditions he spends up to three months at a time in the field.
“The most rewarding aspect is the solitude and simplicity of life in a small field camp,” said Hinke. “Being surrounded by glaciers, thousands of penguins, and beautiful, icy seas doesn’t hurt either.”
Hinke’s research interests in biology started with fish and lake studies at the University of Wisconsin. After funding for research on Pacific salmon dried up, an opportunity arose to work on a long-term penguin data set.“During my first trip to Antarctica in 2005 I got hooked,” said Hinke. “I haven’t looked back.”
“This is an important paper that required the long-term study and exceptional persistence of the scientists that conducted the work. Jefferson Hinke, a graduate student and critical part of the team, represents a new generation that will continue this ecological study of population trends of chinstrap and Adélie penguins,” said Jerry Kooyman Emeritus Professor of Biology at Scripps and Hinke’s advisor. “The project covers a decisive period in the region of warming of the climate, decrease in sea ice distribution and increase in competitors for krill, the basic protein resource of the West Antarctic Peninsula food web.”
Coauthors of the PNAS study include: Wayne Trivelpiece, Aileen Miller, Christian Reiss, Susan Trivelpiece, and George Watters of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, part of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.
The research was funded by NOAA, the National Science Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Oceanites Foundation.-- Mario C. Aguilera
May 12, 2011