Deconstructing the anthropogenic niche in penguins

By Dr Tom Hart, Senior Lecturer in Ecology and Conservation at Oxford Brookes University

Friday, January 26th from 12:30 to 13:30 in Askja N-131


Abstract: The timing of breeding and its flexibility are important aspects of many species’ realised niche, reflecting adaptations to synchronise with food supplies, dilute predation, avoid competition, and exploit abiotic seasonal fluctuations. But how much of this is due to human pressures? Can we determine the natural and unnatural drivers of behavioural drivers of phenological change to determine conservation measures? Breeding phenology is typically studied through long-term monitoring of focal populations, making it difficult to characterize species-wide traits. I will present analyses of the start of the breeding season of three sympatric Pygoscelid species of penguins (Adélie, Chinstrap and Gentoo) monitored all around Antarctica for over a decade using timelapse cameras The breeding seasons for all three species advanced at record rates (10, 10, and 13 days/decade, respectively) showing great adaptive capabilities. Phenological change shows great intra- and inter-species variability and, in all three species, advances are related to environmental warming in their respective colonies. The differences in response between the foraging generalist Gentoos (with local populations increasing) and the foraging specialists Adélies and Chinstraps (local populations decreasing) suggest recent changes selectively advantage Gentoos while handicapping Chinstraps and Adélies. I discuss the implications of these changes in breeding and populations against changes in Antarctica and what this might also mean for understanding change beyond the poles.


He is mostly a seabird ecologist, but also dabbles in seals and other animals that can be remotely monitored. Tom’s passion for polar ecology was cemented during his PhD on Macaroni Penguin foraging behaviour with the British Antarctic Survey and Imperial College London, where he instantly in love with South Georgia. He was a post-Doctoral researcher at the Zoological Society of London 2008-2010 then a Research Fellow  at Oxford University 2010-2023.

Tom’s research focuses on tackling the data gaps that are needed to manage polar regions, surveying out-of-reach areas like the South Sandwich Islands and addressing data gaps needed to understand and manage the krill fishery. He monitors penguin colonies all-year-round using time-lapse cameras, AI, and citizen science ( Since it launched in September 2014, Penguin Watch has had 8 million hits and changed the scale at which we can monitor the Polar Regions. The point of all these new techniques is to better monitor remote areas and prioritize those that are under strain to create effective protected areas and fisheries management. His main loves in the Polar Regions are South Georgia and macaroni penguins; South Georgia because it is amazing and macaroni penguins because they share his special outlook on life. In his spare time, Tom sails and packrafts, crossing Iceland by packraft and foot and cruising up the West coast of Greenland.

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