King Pnguins find human presence stressful

July 11th, 2012 - 8:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Paris, July 11 (IANS) King penguins not used to human presence are likely to become more stressed than those exposed to tourists and noises.

All these specimens were from King Penguin colony on the protected Possession island in the subantarctic Crozet archipelago, pockets of which had been exposed to constant human disturbance. All of them were nursing a chick aged from two days to one month.

Researchers from the University of Strasbourg, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), both in France, and the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, compared 15 King Penguins breeding in areas disturbed daily by humans and 18 penguins breeding in undisturbed areas.

Using heart rate to indicate the stress level of each penguin, they compared the stress response of penguins from the different areas to three stressors, the journal BMC Ecology reports.

Two low intensity stressors, a human approach to 10 metres and a loud noise, mimicked the actions of tourists, researchers, and noises from machines when operating on the outskirts of the colony. One high intensity stressor, a capture, simulated researchers taking measurements, according to a Strasbourg statement.

Compared with penguins from undisturbed areas, penguins from areas of high human disturbance were less stressed by noise and approaching humans, but following capture, their maximum relative heart rate increased 42 percent although they then recovered faster.

“Our findings report a case of physiological adjustment to human presence in a long-studied King Penguin colony, and emphasize the importance of considering potential effects of human presence in ecological studies,” said Vincent Viblanc, who led the study.

Penguins ‘getting used to’ people may be beneficial to scientific research and tourist management. However, this study also raises the question of the potential influence of human activities on the selection of specific types.

Evaluating the impact of humans on protected wildlife such as the King Penguins is particularly important given the rise in popularity of Antarctic tour groups. Viblanc said: “A central question for ecologists is the extent to which anthropogenic disturbances (e.g. tourism) might impact wildlife and affect the systems under study.”

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