Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Adélie Penguins

Cape Bird South. Image - Kerry Barton

Scientists have been studying Adélie penguins (Pygoscelie adeliae) for over 50 years.

Antarctica is one of the last places in the world where animals can be studied in a habitat still largely unmodified by man. It is thought that data on changes to penguin populations may reflect the impacts that humans and natural factors, like climate change, may be having on the marine ecosystem.

Information from the Adélie penguin project will contribute to the understanding of factors impacting Adélie penguin populations, in particular in the Ross Sea region, and will assist New Zealand to assert a continued influence in Antarctic governance through maintaining an effective role in the Antarctic Treaty System.

Previous research indicates that the Adélie penguin is a sensitive 'bellwether' and an extremely valuable indicator species of climate change. By investigating the processes that control Adélie penguin population size, demographics and distribution we can determine the effect that local, regional and global factors may have, in the face of climate change, on the structure of this relatively undisturbed marine ecosystem. Therefore, Adélie penguins can be used as a biological proxy to supply environmental stewardship agencies with an improved understanding of current and future natural and human-based pressures on the Ross Sea ecosystem to ensure the conservation of global natural heritage.

The Ross Sea is one of the most biologically productive regions of the Southern Ocean and more than 38% of all Adélies (5 million penguins in 38 colonies) are found here, even though this region has less than 10% of the total Antarctic coastline.

Landcare Research, in collaboration with a US research team, has been studying Adélie penguins in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica.


  • LaRue MA, Ainley DG, Swanson M, Dugger KM, Lyver POB, Barton K, Ballard G 2013. Climate change winners: receding ice fields facilitate colony expansion and altered dynamics in an Adélie penguin metapopulation. PLoS ONE 8(4): e60568.
  • Lyver PO, MacLeod CJ, Ballard G, Karl BJ, Barton KJ, Adams J, Ainley DG, Wilson PR 2011. Intra-seasonal variation in foraging behavior among Adélie penguins (Pygocelis adeliae) breeding at Cape Hallett, Ross Sea, Antarctica. Polar biology 34(1): 49-67.
  • Ainley D, Russell J, Jenouvrier S, Woehler E, Lyver PO, Fraser WR, Kooyman GL 2010. Antarctic penguin response to habitat change as Earth's troposphere reaches 2 degrees C above preindustrial levels. Ecological monographs 80(1): 49-66.
  • Dugger KM, Ainley DG, Lyver PO, Barton K, Ballard G 2010. Survival differences and the effect of environmental instability on breeding dispersal in an Adelie penguin meta-population. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 107(27): 12375-12380.
  • Lescroël A, Ballard G, Toniolo V, Barton KJ, Wilson PR, Lyver POB, Ainley DG 2010. Working less to gain more : when breeding quality relates to foraging efficiency. Ecology 91(7): 2044-2055.
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