The bodily condition of penguin chicks and how adult penguins fish could influence fishery management for marine conservation.
A new study has found that these factors in adult penguins and penguin chicks are directly linked to local fish abundance. Understanding them in their environment could influence fishery management for the purpose of marine conservation.
Marine predators such as penguins are considered an indicator species, whose success indicates the conditions of the habitat.
How African penguins feed their chicks
Dr Kate Campbell, who led the research at the University of Cape Town as part of her PhD project, explained: “Understanding how African penguins forage to feed their chicks in their variable marine environment can help us identify conservation measures for these endangered populations.”
The study found that the local abundance of anchovy and sardine was linked to African penguin foraging behaviour and the condition of chick offspring.
The study showed that when the fish abundance was lower:
- Adult penguins increased foraging effort, foraging for longer, swimming further and diving more often; and
- The chick body condition also declined, because finding fish was a greater challenge for breeding adults and required more of their energy.
Marine conservation for endangered populations
Campbell explained: “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.”
“Since these short-term changes will likely have knock-on effects for chick survival and penguin population size, they could be used as powerful early warning signs to inform fisheries’ policies and marine conservation efforts.”
Fishing is considered one of the biggest drivers of marine biodiversity loss. According to the British Ecological Society, this is so widespread that we lack the understanding of natural relationships between marine predators and prey, therefore, we do not know the extent to which the competition from fisheries disrupts predators.