Researchers find that Australian and New Zealand little penguins are distinct species

December 14, 2015

A team of researchers from New Zealand's University of Otago and the University of Tasmania has discovered that Australian and New Zealand little penguins represent two distinct species, rather than one.

Scientists had previously wondered about the relationships between populations of the penguin (popularly known as little blue penguins or fairy penguins) found on either side of the Tasman. The trans-Tasman team used genetic techniques to compare populations from both countries, and surprisingly found that they are not the same species.

"We found a very strong pattern, where New Zealand has its own distinctive genetic group that is clearly very different from the Australian penguin populations," says Dr Stefanie Grosser, who carried out the study as part of her Otago PhD project.

Similar to their human counterparts, the two species also seem to have developed their own 'accents'. Other researchers have previously shown that calls differ between Australian and New Zealand little penguins and females prefer the calls of males of their own species. "You could say the Aussies like hearing 'feesh', while 'fush' sounds better to Kiwi ears," Dr Grosser jokes.

"The recognition of unique penguin species on both sides of the Tasman highlights the importance of managing and conserving them separately," she says.

Another unexpected finding of the study was the discovery that the Australian species -- Eudyptula novaehollandiae -- is surprisingly also present in Otago, in the remote southeast corner of New Zealand's South Island. "Our genetic data suggest that the Otago and Australian populations are quite closely related," says Dr Grosser.

The team is currently working to better establish the history of the Otago population using ancient DNA.

"This research highlights that there is still much to be discovered about our region's unique wildlife," says Professor Jon Waters, who was involved in the study. "The new recognition of endemic species -- unique to our region -- is crucial for managing our natural heritage."
-end-
The research was funded by the Marsden Fund and Allan Wilson Centre and published this week in the international journal PLOS ONE.

Once the embargo lifts, the article will be available here:http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0144966

University of Otago

Related Penguins Articles from Brightsurf:

Gentoo penguins are four species, not one, say scientists
First analysis combining genetic and physical differences of populations of gentoo penguins indicates they should be treated as four separate species.

Penguins are Aussies. Or are they Kiwis?
UC Berkeley and Pontifical Catholic University of Chile researchers sequenced the genomes of all 18 recognized species of penguin to assemble a family tree, showing that the largest of the penguins - king and emperor - split off from all other penguins not long after penguins arose 22 million years ago in Australia and New Zealand.

New Zealand's ancient monster penguins had northern hemisphere doppelgangers
New Zealand's monster penguins that lived 62 million years ago had doppelgangers in Japan, the USA and Canada, a study published today in the Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research has found.

Antarctic penguins happier with less sea ice
Researchers have been surprised to find that Adélie penguins in Antarctica prefer reduced sea-ice conditions, not just a little bit, but a lot.

Researchers go cuckoo: Antarctic penguins release an extreme amount of laughing gas
In a new study, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have demonstrated that penguins in Antarctica emit copious amounts of nitrous oxide via their feces.

Climate change and human activities threatens picky penguins
Eating a krill-only diet has made one variety of Antarctic penguin especially susceptible to the impacts of climate change, according to new research involving the University of Saskatchewan (USask) which sheds new light on why some penguins are winners and others losers in their rapidly changing ecosystem.

Whaling and climate change led to 100 years of feast or famine for Antarctic penguins
New research reveals how penguins have dealt with more than a century of human impacts in Antarctica and why some species are winners or losers in this rapidly changing ecosystem.

Researchers study chickens, ostriches, penguins to learn how flight feathers evolved
If you took a careful look at the feathers on a chicken, you'd find many different forms within the same bird -- even within a single feather.

What future do emperor penguins face?
Emperor penguins establish their colonies on sea ice under extremely specific conditions.

New sphenisciform fossil further resolves bauplan of extinct giant penguins
New Zealand is a key area for understanding the diversity of the extinct penguins and has even revealed the existence of 'giant' penguin species (larger than living penguins).

Read More: Penguins News and Penguins Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.