Nav: Home

Scientists complete first assessment of blood abnormalities in Antarctic penguin colony

July 24, 2019

Scientists have completed the first study of immune and genetic stability among a colony of penguins living in a remote corner of southern Antarctica.

Researchers examined erythrocyte nuclear abnormality (ENA) and white blood cell (WBC) levels in Adélie penguins breeding at Edmonson Point.

Through blood tests conducted on 19 adult penguins, they found quantities of cell types associated with future cell death, genomic instability or cancer development.

The study's findings will act as baseline data for future studies into the health status of breeding penguins and how they are responding to environmental changes. Edmonson Point is an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) in the Ross Sea, which in turn is home to 38% of the global population of Adélie penguin.

The Adélie is considered a keystone species of the Antarctic environment so it is considered mandatory to address the current health status of population living in this territory to prove the efficacy of the protected area and to monitor any potential impact in the future.

The research was undertaken through a collaboration between the University of Siena and the University of Plymouth, as part of an Erasmus student exchange between the universities. It was funded by the Italian National Antarctic Research Programme.

Dr Silvia Olmastroni, from the University of Siena and the Italian National Antarctic Museum, led the research along with University of Siena colleague Dr Ilaria Corsi. She said: "Antarctic seabirds are well adapted to extreme environments and often deal with sub-optimal conditions and severe environmental stress. Climate change, pollution, habitat loss and increasing human presence can all significantly affect organism's health status and long-term survival. For that reason, it is crucial to have this understanding of a species' immune and genetic system so that any changes can be identified at the earliest opportunity."

It is well known that climate change is affecting the bioavailability of toxic contaminants in the wildlife of Antarctica, leading to changes in organism homeostasis and other physiological defence mechanisms.

This means that during a penguin's lifetime, contaminant exposure - both in its breeding and feeding habitats - may vary according to the ecosystem changes.

However, in comparison with other Antarctic territories, the Ross Sea is still considered a pristine area even though human pressure has increased significantly in the last 20 years due to growth of fisheries, tourism and number of scientific bases.

The current research showed that ENA and WBC levels are consistent with studies of other Adelie penguin colonies across the Antarctic peninsula.

However heterophil:leukocyte ratios, which can represent an evolutionary response to natural stressors, was higher in the Edmonson Point colony than in other Adélie penguin populations.

Awadhesh Jha, Professor of Ecotoxicology at the University of Plymouth, added: "It is difficult at this stage to connect what we found in this study to any particular contamination or stress sources. However, over coming decades and beyond, environmental stressors and an increase in associated impacts on wildlife are expected to grow in Antarctica. This information provides us with a series of useful biological indicators for future monitoring and conservation studies to assess potential impact on population and ecosystem health in changing environments."

University of Plymouth

Related Climate Change Articles:

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.
Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
Historical climate important for soil responses to future climate change
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Amsterdam, examined how 18 years of drought affect the billions of vital bacteria that are hidden in the soil beneath our feet.
Can forests save us from climate change?
Additional climate benefits through sustainable forest management will be modest and local rather than global.
From crystals to climate: 'Gold standard' timeline links flood basalts to climate change
Princeton geologists used tiny zircon crystals found in volcanic ash to rewrite the timeline for the eruptions of the Columbia River flood basalts, a series of massive lava flows that coincided with an ancient global warming period 16 million years ago.
Think pink for a better view of climate change
A new study says pink noise may be the key to separating out natural climate variability from climate change that is influenced by human activity.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#543 Give a Nerd a Gift
Yup, you guessed it... it's Science for the People's annual holiday episode that helps you figure out what sciency books and gifts to get that special nerd on your list. Or maybe you're looking to build up your reading list for the holiday break and a geeky Christmas sweater to wear to an upcoming party. Returning are pop-science power-readers John Dupuis and Joanne Manaster to dish on the best science books they read this past year. And Rachelle Saunders and Bethany Brookshire squee in delight over some truly delightful science-themed non-book objects for those whose bookshelves are already full. Since...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab