Our objectives are to identify the molecular basis by which Adélie penguins have responded to a -10°C increase in temperature since the last glacial maximum. We will sequence the genomes of a number of ancient Adélie penguins from the late Pleistocene. The hypothesis is that a series of molecular based physiological changes have enabled modern Adélie penguins to cope with warmer temperatures, in ... comparison to individuals that lived 18,000+ years ago. From the ancient genome data and using the modern genome as a reference, we can identify changes likely to represent the molecular basis of adaptation to climate change.
The field activity involved a survey, on foot, of two areas on Ross Island (Cape Bird to McDonald’s Beach and Cape Royds to Cape Barnes). The purpose of these surveys was to locate and map abandoned Adélie penguin nesting sites and relict colonies along these stretches of the Ross Island coastline. At selected locations pits were excavated to collect Adélie Penguin remains (bones, eggshells, guano and ornithogenic soils). Using techniques common in archaeological research, an accurate stratigraphic excavation was undertaken to identify the periods of occupations, and to reconstruct the history of penguin populations at each location. Pits from 0.5 to 1 m2 were excavated. Along the Cape Bird to McDonalds Beach coastline 105 samples of Adélie penguin material were collected from 9 pits. Along the coastline between Cape Royds and Cape Barne 149 samples of Adélie penguin material were dug from 26 pits.
After collection, sub-fossil bone samples were placed in plastic bags, labeled and stored frozen, until returned to the laboratory where they are kept at -80°C. These samples will now be carbon dated, analysed for stable isotopes and stored for genetic analysis.
Two aerial surveys of the coastline in the region from Knob Point to Harrison’s Bluff were conducted to provide data on the location of potential relict and / or abandoned Adélie penguin colonies.