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).



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