Little penguins
Original Published Date: 
Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Full article issued by Monash University.

An ARC-supported Linkage Project led by Monash University and Phillip Island Nature Parks scientists has set a new baseline for long-term monitoring of Bass Strait food webs.

Using little penguins, an iconic predator, the researchers developed a novel index to determine penguin prey availability from what penguins eat, how much and how hard they have to work hunting during their high-energy period of breeding.

The researchers found that the penguins extracted around 1300 tonnes of biomass from their coastal ecosystem over two breeding seasons, including 219 tonnes of the commercially important sardine and 215 tonnes of red cod.

“As marine environments are increasingly affected by human pressures and climate change, marine food webs are changing,” said Dr Catherine Cavallo, who completed her PhD at the Monash University School of Biological Sciences under the supervision of Professor Richard Reina, and Phillip Island Nature Park marine scientist, Associate Professor André Chiaradia.

“If little penguins can maintain breeding by switching prey to match availability, they may be more resilient to these changes than specialist predators,” she said.

The study follows research last year by the team, also supported by the ARC, which found that little penguins had been eating jellyfish and salps—tiny tube-like animals not generally thought to be an important food source for penguins. This study had found that the jellies and salps made up about a quarter of the DNA found in the penguin faeces.

The research helps scientists to understand the sustainable future of the penguin's food supply, which will assist in their conservation, and the resource management of the entire marine ecosystem.

Photo credit: 

Little Penguins. Credit: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).