Volcanic eruptions nearly snuffed out Gentoo penguin colony | Science News

ADVERTISEMENT

MISSION CRITICAL

Support credible science journalism.

Subscribe to Science News today.


News in Brief

Volcanic eruptions nearly snuffed out Gentoo penguin colony

By
2:00pm, April 12, 2017

Volcanoes were an ancient threat to one of today’s most successful Antarctic penguin colonies, researchers learned after studying preserved Gentoo penguin guano.

Sponsor Message

Penguins have been pooping on Ardley Island off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula for a long, long time. The population there is one of the biggest and oldest Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua) colonies. But evidence from ancient excrement suggests that these animals didn’t always flourish.

Stephen Roberts of the British Antarctic Survey and colleagues set out to see how the Ardley population responded to past changes in climate to better inform future conservation efforts. The researchers studied the geochemical makeup of lake sediment samples and identified elements from penguin guano. Knowing the fraction of guano in lake sludge over time let the researchers track penguin population changes.

The Gentoo penguin colony was nearly wiped out three times over the 6,700 years that the penguins have occupied Ardley Island. But rather than lining up with changes in temperature or sea ice levels, these population dips corresponded to volcanic ash preserved in the geologic record from big eruptions of a volcano on nearby Deception Island. After each population crash, the colony took 400 to 800 years to recover, the team reports April 11 in Nature Communications.

Get Science News headlines by e-mail.

More from this issue of Science News

From the Nature Index Paid Content