Physical Principles of the Collective behavior in Emperor Penguin Colonies


Dr. Daniel Zitterbart
Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Zentrum für Medizinische Physik und Technik
Lehrstuhl für Physikalisch-Medizinische Technik

Project Description

This project is a continuation of a DFG-SPP1158 funded research project entitled "Coordinated movements in a penguin huddle". We have designed, constructed, shipped and assembled an autonomous observatory equipped for high-resolution video recordings of Emperor penguins at Atka-Bay, Antarctica, near the German Neumayer research station. This observatory has been in continuous operation since January 2013. Thus far, we have recorded high-resolution video footage comprising approximately 80 TByte of highly compressed data. In addition, a simpler observatory has now been in operation since 2012 years at the Emperor penguin colony near the French research station at Dumont d'Urville to take high-resolution time-lapse images at 1 min intervals. Most of this data awaits analysis. We therefore propose in our current project to develop strategies to analyze the wealth of data that we now have. We also apply for funds for repair, maintenance and upgrades to extend the lifespan of our Atka-Bay and Durmont D'Urville observatories for another 3 years. Our observatories allow us to gain insights into the biology and ecology of Emperor penguins that previously have been inaccessible by human observers. Therefore, we are well-equipped to ask and answer important and exciting questions about the collective behavior of Emperor penguins, their survival strategies, reproductive success, or their response to environmental changes. In this project we will test the central hypothesis that the collective behavior in an Emperor penguin colony is governed by attractive and repulsive interactions between directly neighboring animals, and not by a hierarchical structure within the colony or among individuals. We will also test the corollary hypothesis that huddling behavior and dynamics is driven by the penguins' strive to minimize energy consumption, and is not directed by more complex social patterns or a collective consciousness. Emperor penguins are an ideal species to study the collective dynamics of a biological system in its natural habitat, and provide a perfect test case to compare, verify and fine-tune current models of collective dynamics in active systems.

DFG Programme: Infrastructure Priority Programmes

International Connection: France

Cooperation partner: Dr. Celine Bohec

Term since 2016