Source: British Ecological Society
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 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, who led the research at the University of Cape Town as part of her PhD 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.