Collaborative Research: Common Environmental Drivers Determine the Occupation Chronology of Adélie Penguins and Moss Peatbanks on the Western Antarctic Peninsula
This award is funded in whole or part under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (Public Law 117-2). Part I: Non-technical description: Adlie penguin colonies are declining and disappearing from the western Antarctic Peninsula. However, not all colonies in a certain area decline or disappear at the same rate. This research project will evaluate the influence of terrestrial surface properties on Adlie penguin colonies, leveraging five decades of research on seabirds near Palmer Station where an Adlie colony on Litchfield Island became extinct in 2007 while other colonies nearby are still present. The researchers will combine information obtained from remote sensing, UAS (Unoccupied Aircraft System, or drones) high-resolution maps, reconstruction of past moss banks and modeling with machine learning tools to define suitable penguin and peatbank moss habitats and explore the influence of microclimate on their distributions. In particular, the researchers are asking if guano from penguin colonies could act as fertilizers of moss banks in the presence of localized wind patters that can carry airborne nitrogen to the mosses. Modeling will relate penguin and peatbank moss spatial patterns to environmental variables and provide a greater understanding of how continued environmental change could impact these communities. The project allows for documentation of terrestrial Antarctic ecosystems in support of seabirds and provisioning of such information to the broader science community that seeks to study penguins, educating graduate and undergraduate students and a post-doctoral researcher. The research team includes two young women as Principal Investigators, one of them from an under-represented ethnic minority, first time Antarctic Principal Investigator, from an EPSCoR state (Wyoming), broadening participation in Antarctic research. Researchers will serve as student mentors through the Duke Bass Connections program entitled Biogeographic Assessment of Antarctic Coastal Habitats. This program supports an interdisciplinary team of graduate and undergraduate students collaborating with project faculty and experts on cutting-edge research bridging the classroom and the real world. Part II: Technical description: This research aims to understand the changes at the microclimate scale (meters) by analyzing present and past Adlie penguin colonies and moss peatbanks in islands around Palmer Station in the western Antarctic Peninsula interlinked systems that are typically considered in isolation. By integrating in situ and remote data, this project will synthesize the drivers of biogeomorphology on small islands of the Antarctic Peninsula, a region of rapid change where plants and animals often co-occur and animal presence often determines the habitation of plants. A multi-disciplinary approach combine field measurements, remote sensing, UAS (Unoccupied Aircraft Systems) maps, paleoecology and modeling with machine learning to define suitable habitats and the influence of microclimates on penguin and peatbank distributions. The link between the two aspects of this study, peatbanks and penguins, is the potential source of nutrients for peat mosses from penguin guano. Peatbank and penguin distribution will be modeled and all models will be validated using in situ information from moss samples that will identify mechanistic processes. This project leverages 5 decades of seabird research in the area and high-definition remote sensing provided by the Polar Geospatial center to study the microclimate of Litchfield Island where an Adlie colony became extinct in 2007 when other colonies nearby are still present. The research team includes two early career women as Principal Investigators, one of them from an under-represented ethnic minority, first time Antarctic Principal Investigator, from an EPSCoR state (Wyoming). Researchers will serve as mentors for students through the Duke Bass Connections program entitled Biogeogrpahic Assessment of Antarctic Coastal Habitats which bridges the classroom and the real world. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
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