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We study three different penguin species, Emperor Penguins, King Penguins and Adelie Penguins, using self-designed remote-controlled observing systems. Research questions encompass: Collective Behavior, Population Dynamics, Phenology, Abundance Estimation and Observing System Development.


Current Projects

SPOT (Single Penguin Observation and Tracking)

SPOT is our most advanced remote controlled Emperor Penguin observatory. It is deployed next to the atkaBay Emperor Penguin Colony, close to the German Antarctic research base Neumayer Station III. SPOT serves multiple purposes. Intended for studying emergent phenomena during huddling of Emperor Penguins during Antarctic winter. Data aquired with SPOT is used in several other projects and the technological development of SPOT is continously ongoing. We will be operating SPOT at least until 2030 to facilitate long-term ecological and behavioral research. SPOT is equipped with 10 cameras with different resolutions and sensors, allowing to record low and high resolution images of the location penguin colony, as well as of thousandths of individual penguins at the same time. Tracking of individual penguins as well as the whole colony allows us to unravel the mechanisms how emperor penguins coordinate themselves, react and adapt to different environmental conditions.


Collective Behavior in Emperor Penguin Colonies

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Remote sensing of Emperor Penguin foraging success

Using time-lapse imagery, we are developing methods to remotely sense foraging success of the whole colony after the penguins return from foraging to breed.  By correlating the penguin’s “wind chill” temperature with video observations of when the penguins begin huddling, we are able to come up with a "transition temperature" — the temperature at which colonies shift from a scattered, liquid-like state to a huddled, solid-like state. If the transition occurs at warmer temperatures, it means the penguins are feeling cold earlier and begin huddling to stay warm and conserve energy. And that indicates that the penguins had less body fat upon their return from foraging and were probably undernourished because they did not find enough food to eat within a reasonable distance from their breeding colony. If the transition temperature is lower later in the season, it suggests that the foraging season was a success and the animals returned well-fed and with higher amounts of body fat. This proof of concept is currently expanded to larger datasets spanning almost a decade.



MARE (Monitor the health of the Antarctic maRine ecosystems using the Emperor penguin as a sentinel), is the consequent development of SPOT. While SPOT purely relied on remote observation of penguins, MARE is establishing a long-term (30+years) life observatory for emperor penguins. A life Observatory allows us to follow each individual penguins fate (using PIT tags) over the course of his lifetime. This will allow to understand us how the changing world will effect the emperor penguins fate and where the species might survive.

King Penguin Colony Organization

King Penguins live in large colonies with up to several ten of thousand of individuals. The colonies can be in different states, from a uniform mixture of adult and chick penguins to a highly phase separated state where chicks move collectively. Using non-invasive time-lapse photography we study the underlying rules of colony organization. We derive near physics models to explain how such complex organsiztional feature can emerge from simple animal - animal interaction. Current observatories (micr0bs) are based on Crozet and Kerguelen Island (with a lot of help from IPEV and CNRS) and record continuous time-lapse images at different time intervals (from 30fps to 1 fpm) allowing us to study the organizational processes on different time scales.