Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua


Penguins floating on pack ice. Image - Kerry Barton

Penguins floating on pack ice. Image - Kerry Barton

We are using Adélies to test a number of theories on population control in seabirds and to understand the factors that regulate breeding in Adélie penguins. We also study Adélies to understand what they can tell us about the health of the Antarctic marine ecosystem.

Key Questions

Distribution and abundance

  • What factors determine where penguins live?

  • Why do some colonies, especially smaller ones, grow at faster rates than others?

  • Why do colonies differ in size?

Breeding success

  • What factors determine breeding success at different colonies? 

    • Why do chicks grow fasterat some colonies than at others?

    • How many chicks fledge at each colony?

Breeding behaviour

  • What are the social factors that influence Adélie breeding?
    • Why do Adélies breed in colonies?
    • How does an Adélie select a colony as its breeding site?


  • What factors determine what penguins eat?

  • How much energy do penguins expend catching their food?

  • How closely do changes in penguin population numbers reflect changes in the abundance of their prey species?


  • Can changes in Adélie population numbers be used as a yardstick for the environmental impacts of human (fisheries, pollution) and natural factors (climate change, weather patterns)?

Why Adélies

Adelies are good indicator of change because:

  • They eat krill, an important component of the food web, so if the food available for predators like penguins, seals and whales is decreasing/increasing we should detect changes in Adelie populations.
  • They need the sea ice and sea ice extent and thickness is predicted to be something that will be affected by climate change.

They are the easiest Antarctic predator to census because they:

  • Breed during summer when we can work in Antarctica.
  • Breed on land at the same location every year (unlike whales and most seals that are highly mobile and breed at sea or on pack ice).



  • Dugger KM, Ballard G, Ainley DG, Barton KJ 2006. Effects of flipper bands on foraging behavior and survival of Adélie Penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae). The Auk 123(3): 858–869.[858:EOFBOF]2.0.CO;2
  • Ballance LT, Ainley DG, Ballard G, Barton K 2009. An energetic correlate between colony size and foraging effort in seabirds, an example of the AdElie penguin Pygoscelis adeliae. Journal of Avian Biology 40(3): 279-288.
  • Ainley DG, Clarke ED, Arrigo K, Fraser WR, Kato A, Barton KJ, Wilson PR 2005. Decadal-scale changes in the climate and biota of the Pacific sector of the Southern Ocean, 1950s to the 1990s. Antarctic science 17: 171-182.
  • Ainley DG, Ribic CA, Ballard G, Heath S, Gaffney I, Karl BJ, Barton KJ, Wilson PR, Webb S 2004/2. Geographic structure of Adelie penguin populations: overlap in colony-specific foraging areas. Ecological monographs 74(1): 159-178.
  • Ainley DG, Ballard G, Barton KJ, Karl BJ, Rau GH, Ribic CA, Wilson PR 2003/2. Spatial and temporal variation of diet within a presumed metapopulation of Adélie Penguins. Condor 105(1): 95-106.
  • Macdonald JA, Barton KJ, Metcalf P 2002. Chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antartica) nesting on Sabrina Islaet, Balleny Islands, Antarctica. Polar biology 25: 442-447.
  • Ballard G, Ainley DG, Ribic CA, Barton KR 2001/8. Effect of instrument attachment and other factors on foraging trip duration and nesting success of Adelie Penguins. Condor 103(3): 481-490.
  • Wilson PR, Ainley DG, Nur N, Jacobs SS, Barton KJ, Ballard G, Comiso JC 2001. Adelie penguin population change in the pacific sector of Antarctica: relation to sea-ice extent and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. Marine ecology :progress series 213: 301-309.
  • Ainley DG, Wilson PR, Barton KJ, Ballard G, Nur N, Karl B 1998/11. Diet and foraging effort of Adelie penguins in relation to pack-ice conditions in the southern Ross Sea. Polar biology 20(5): 311-319.
All Publications