Research on Galapagos Penguins
Since the 1972 El Niño, the population of Galapagos penguins has declined by about 75%. The primary cause of the decline is the increased intensity and frequency of El Niño events. The current population may be as low as 1,500 individuals, making Galapagos penguins the rarest of all penguin species. They are categorized as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Their recovery has been hampered by two factors: a decrease in the intensity and frequency of La Niñas, when penguin reproductive success is highest, and a lack of high-quality nest sites. Managing oceanographic conditions is impossible, however a low-cost means of addressing nest-site limitations and increasing reproductive success when food is abundant is possible.
We proved that Galapagos penguins will use constructed nests. Of the 120 nests that we created on predator-free islands in September 2010, two nests had breeding pairs when we returned in July 2011. One had eggs and the other had a newly hatched chick. During the same period, we found only one natural nest in use. (Nesting activity may have increased in late July or August, but we were no longer present to document the comparative use of natural and constructed nests.) The one natural nest in use in July 2011 around Isabela and Fernandina was used in October 2011 by another pair. Having another pair in the same nest in July and in October is consistent with nest sites being extremely limited. Many of the natural sites I found in the early 1970s were in use in 2012. Creating shaded nest sites has shown positive results. Building inexpensive, lava nest sites for Galapagos penguins may be a simple intervention to increase their breeding and reproductive success when conditions are favorable. We need to demonstrate the effectiveness of the intervention so that the Galapagos National Park can use it to increase the population in places that are free of introduced predators.
Here is our most recent video featuring Dee and the lava nests built to help keep Galapagos penguins in the shade!
Check out another video about our work in the Galapagos, made by Cameron Alavi in Dee’s Biology 305 Class!