Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

King penguin colony at IIle aux Cochons at its maximum population in 1982

A 1982 photograph shows some of the half a million breeding pairs of king penguins on Ile aux Cochons in the Southern Ocean. Credit: H. Weimerskirch

Conservation biology

Enormous penguin population crashes by almost 90%

Mystery of ‘massive decline’ in colony that once covered the hills of an island off Antarctica.

The world’s second-largest penguin colony has collapsed in just a few decades, falling from half a million breeding pairs in the 1980s to just tens of thousands in 2017.

Breeding colonies of king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) occupy unvegetated ground on islands in the Southern Ocean, including the remote Ile aux Cochons. Helicopter and satellite images taken in 1982 and 1988 showed that the island hosted some 500,000 breeding pairs — a population that was second in size only to a colony of chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica) in the South Sandwich Islands.

Analysing new helicopter and satellite images from 2015 and 2017, Henri Weimerskirch at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Villiers en Bois and his colleagues found that vegetation has overrun much of the penguins’ breeding ground. The team estimates that the colony’s numbers have dropped by 88% in 35 years, to 60,000 breeding pairs.

Nearly one-third of the world’s king penguins have disappeared in the collapse. The researchers have no conclusive explanation for the colony’s decline, which may be ongoing.

More Research Highlights...

Selected materials found in the gut contents of Tollund Man

The intestinal contents of a man killed in a prehistoric ritual (clockwise from upper left): barley, charred food that had been encrusted in a clay pot, flax seeds and sand. Credit: Peter Steen Henriksen, the Danish National Museum

Archaeology

The guts of a ‘bog body’ reveal sacrificed man’s final meal

Tollund Man, who lived more than 2,000 years ago, ate well before he was hanged.
Illustration of Earth with white lines showing the magnetic field.

Earth’s magnetic field (depicted as white lines in this artist’s impression) can be studied with observations from a constellation of commercial satellites. Credit: Mikkel Juul Jensen/Science Photo Library

Geophysics

Telecoms satellites’ new purpose: spying on Earth’s magnetic field

Clues to the forces generated by the planet’s core emerge from observations intended for satellite navigation.
Ageing of an artwork with graphene

After 130 hours of artificial ageing by visible light, the painting Triton and Nereid has lost some of the purple tint to the figures’ right, but a graphene film kept the bright pink at upper left undimmed. Credit: M. Kotsidi et al./Nature Nanotechnol.

Materials science

A graphene cloak keeps artworks’ colours ageless

A layer of carbon atoms preserves a painting’s vibrant hues — and can be applied and removed without damage.
Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing

Search

Quick links