Advances in remote sensing of emperor penguins: first multi-year time series documenting trends in the global population

Like many polar animals, emperor penguin populations are challenging to monitor because of the species' life history and remoteness. Consequently, it has been difficult to establish its global status, a subject important to resolve as polar environments change. To advance our understanding of emperor penguins, we combined remote sensing, validation surveys and using Bayesian modelling, we estimated a comprehensive population trajectory over a recent 10-year period, encompassing the entirety of the species’ range. Reported as indices of abundance, our study indicates with 81% probability that there were fewer adult emperor penguins in 2018 than in 2009, with a posterior median decrease of 9.6% (95% credible interval (CI) −26.4% to +9.4%). The global population trend was −1.3% per year over this period (95% CI = −3.3% to +1.0%) and declines probably occurred in four of eight fast ice regions, irrespective of habitat conditions. Thus far, explanations have yet to be identified regarding trends, especially as we observed an apparent population uptick toward the end of time series. Our work potentially establishes a framework for monitoring other Antarctic coastal species detectable by satellite, while promoting a need for research to better understand factors driving biotic changes in the Southern Ocean ecosystem.


Publication status:
Authors: LaRue, M., Iles, D., Labrousse, S., Fretwell, P. ORCIDORCID record for P. Fretwell, Ortega, D., Devane, E., Horstmann, I., Viollat, L., Foster-Dyer, R., Le Bohec, C., Zitterbart, D., Houstin, A., Richter, S., Winterl, A., Wienecke, B., Salas, L., Nixon, M., Barbraud, C., Kooyman, G., Ponganis, P., Ainley, D., Trathan, P. ORCIDORCID record for P. Trathan, Jenouvrier, S.

On this site: Philip Trathan, Peter Fretwell
13 March, 2024
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences / 291
Link to published article: