Pingu-gle maps: Scientists recruit birds to help chart Antarctic

Cambridge scientists have recruited some unlikely cartographers to help map areas of the antarctic - penguins!

The birds helped scientists map areas in greatest need of protection from the threat of over exploitation in a rapidly-changing climate.

A cohort of scientists compiled tracking data from five different species ofpenguin and 12 other marine predators to find the regions most densely populated with prey.

To mark World Penguin Day this Saturday, the scientists involved arehighlighting their role in the new research and its importance to conservationefforts.

The study was undertaken by the University of Cambridge-based Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research and supported by the WWF and France's Centre de Synthese et d'Analyse sur la Biodiversite.

Tracking data from adelie, emperor, king, royal and macaroni penguin species was used, as well as data from two species of petrel, four types of albatross, four types of seal and humpback whales.

It revealed the areas most popular with multiple predator species were alsounder the most pressure from commercial fishing and the most vulnerable tochanging patterns of sea ice coverage.

The Antarctic - which is only just beginning to recover from industrial sealhunting, whaling and deep sea fishing - is now one of the regions most sensitive to climate change.

The study was based on data collected between 1991 and 2016 from 4,060individuals across the 17 species.<

Collected by more than 70 researchers across 12 national Antarctic programmes, the data covers 2.3 million visits by the predators to different locations in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic Continent.

The research team now want to see these areas of ecological importanceconsidered for legal protection by including them in marine protected areasrecognised by international law.

Currently just 29% lie within the boundaries of marine protected areas.In the paper Tracking of Marine Predators to Protect Southern Ocean Ecosystems, they wrote: "An appropriately designed network of protected areas can help to buffer the effects of climate change and reduce the effect of stressors such as bycatch or competition from fisheries.'

The research was published in the journal Nature.