New research to better understand our little penguins

A little penguin chick beginning to grow fledgling feathers

Sandra and a volunteer prepare to take a blood sample

Sandra and a volunteer prepare to take a blood sample

University of New South Wales PhD student Sandra Vogel is monitoring  around 5,000 little penguins on Bowen Island to better understand how the birds breed and survive.

Sandra is studying Bowen Island’s colony and three other major little penguin colonies off the New South Wales coast in an attempt to discover if the four colonies are interbreeding. Previous studies have suggested no interbreeding occurs but using advanced testing techniques Sandra will compare the penguins’ genetic signature and confirm whether this is actually the case.

Bowen Island is one of Australia’s most important breeding spots for little penguins and has one of the highest breeding success rates in the country. Sandra is investigating mortality rates and population sizes to enable her to predict trends in penguin numbers due to changes in the environment, and to find out what changes little penguins are the most susceptible to.

Sandra Vogel holding a little penguin that has just been microchipped and genetically sampled

Work like this is invaluable to environmental managers as it helps us better understand how strong the colonies are and how they can recover from things like a changing climate, pollution, weeds and fire.

By seeing whether the colonies are isolated or if there are penguins that are breeding in different colonies from where they were born, Sandra’s research will help us set conservation priorities or refine our penguin management strategies.

Tanya, Parks Australia

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