Coordinated movements in a penguin huddle



Professor Dr.-Ing. Ben Fabry 
Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg 
Zentrum für Medizinische Physik und Technik 
Lehrstuhl für Physikalisch-Medizinische Technik


Project Description

The Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) is the only species that breeds during the austral winter. They endure temperatures below -35° C and winds up to 50 m/s. From their arrival at the colony until the eggs hatch, the males, who solely incubate the eggs, fast for about 4 months. To conserve energy and to survive, the penguins form huddles. It is crucial that the huddle structure is continuously reorganized so that time spent at the huddle periphery is limited. Penguins in a huddle are packed so tightly, however, that individual movements become impossible, reminiscent of a jamming transition in compacted colloids. We recently discovered that penguins overcome jamming by moving periodically in large, coordinated clusters. This project aims to understand the reorganization process in penguin huddles and the implications for social thermoregulation. We propose to develop a remote-operated penguin observatory including hard- and software for fast image acquisition and real-time processing. The observatory will be capable of detecting the whole huddle, as well as tracking the movements of thousands of individual penguins throughout the winter. An accurate count of animals within the colony and the size of individual animals will also be recorded, and together our data will help to estimate how the increasing environmental strain such as ongoing climate changes, thinning sea ice and reduced krill availability, is affecting Emperor penguins.


DFG Programme: Infrastructure Priority Programmes

International Connection: Antarctica, Australia

Participating Person: Barbara Wienecke, Ph.D.

Term from 2011 to 2015