Many campers have probably encountered a curious squirrel or hungry raccoon trying to break into their tent… but what about a pack of mischievous penguins? SJSU/MLML professor and Antarctic researcher Dr. Gitte McDonald is no stranger to the antics of these large seabirds.
MLML is excited to announce that Dr. Birgitte (Gitte) McDonald, faculty member of San José State University, has been awarded a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation for $935,931. The Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) supports promising young scientists, providing funds to allow them to greatly expand their research capability in the early stages of their career. Dr. McDonald will be using the funds to support graduate students and postdocs, develop a new biologging course, and contribute data to an NSF-funded afterschool program. Dr. McDonald’s research program is described below.
As ice-dependent top predators, Emperor Penguins are indicators of both drastic and subtle changes occurring throughout the food web and the state of the sea ice. Like other predators, they are vulnerable to environmental change: these changes permeate through the food web, modifying foraging behavior, and ultimately survival and reproduction. Despite their importance in the Southern Ocean ecosystem, relatively little is known about the mechanisms Emperor Penguins use to find and acquire food. This study combines a suite of technological and analytical tools to gain essential knowledge on Emperor Penguin foraging energetics, ecology, and habitat use during critical periods in their life history.
Specifically, this project (1) investigates the foraging energetics, ecology, and habitat use of Emperor Penguins at Cape Crozier, the 2nd most southern colony, during late chick-rearing. Energy management is particularly crucial during late chick-rearing as parents need to feed both themselves and their rapidly growing offspring, while being constrained to regions near the colony. And (2) study the ecology and habitat preference of Ross Sea Emperor Penguins after the molt and through early reproduction. The post-molt foraging trip may be the most dangerous time for Emperor Penguins as they recover from a 50% loss in protein, while doubling their body mass for the reproduction fast ahead of them. This study fills important knowledge gaps on the energy balance, diet, and habitat use of Emperor Penguins during these critical periods, while also addressing fundamental questions in ecology.
Last fall, Dr. McDonald traveled to Cape Crozier, Antarctica to lead a team of researchers studying the foraging ecology of emperor penguins. Learn more about their research and what it’s like to live and work in Antarctica in the podcast! Listen here.
Photo credit: Gitte McDonald
NMFS Permit 19108
The Cal State Universities recently published CSU Women in Antarctica: To the Ends of the Earth. The story features several female scientists from the CSUs who work in Antarctica, including our very own Dr. Gitte McDonald of the Vertebrate Ecology Lab. Read more about Gitte and other inspiring women in science here.
Stacy Kim, Research Faculty in MLML's Benthic Lab, along with colleagues Ben Saenz, Jeff Scanniello, Kendra Daly, and David Ainley, published a paper on their research of sea ice in Antarctica. The study investigates changes in fast ice (ie ice that is "fastened" to the shore) in McMurdo Sound. Fast ice is an important feature in the Southern Ocean and understanding changes in sea ice sheds light on marine ecosystem dynamics.
The paper is titled: Local climatology of fast ice in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica
Dorota Szuta is a Master’s student under the guidance of Dr. Stacy Kim of the Benthic Ecology lab and Dr. Ivano Aiello of the Geological Oceanography lab. She earned her BS degree in Marine Biology at UC Santa Cruz in 2009. After her undergraduate work, she worked in the Benthic Ecology lab as a field diver and lab tech for two years. In her free time, she likes to play music, make art, and pet dogs. Her Master's thesis focuses on communities of benthic invertebrates under ice in Antarctica.
The Ross Sea, Antarctica is a deep bay of the Southern Ocean that exhibits seasonal sea ice and is adjacent to a permanent ice shelf overlying seawater. Though the shallow-water seafloor communities in the Ross Sea are known to be high in species richness and abundance, the deeper sublittoral zone (approximately 25 m – 200 m) has been generally understudied and, especially under the Ross Ice Shelf, the benthic community composition is largely unknown. In 2008 and 2009, imagery of the seafloor at two sites under the permanent Ross Ice Shelf and two sites under the seasonal ice in the Ross Sea was collected via remotely operated vehicle (ROV) at depths to 300 m. Several patterns in Antarctic benthic communities were seen over multiple environmental gradients. Species abundance typically exhibited a unimodal distribution with depth, reflecting a food limitation at the deep end and potentially ice disturbance on the shallow end. Diversity and depth had quadratic relationship at two of three sites encompassing a depth gradient. In terms of functional groups, the proportion of suspension feeders decreased with depth at one site, and no pattern was found at other sites. The group sessile predators, comprised of several species of anemones, increased with depth proportionally, suggesting that they use a range of feeding strategies to adapt to life at depth. Benthic communities under seasonal ice were different than those under permanent ice shelves, with higher overall species diversity, a greater proportion of suspension feeders, and a degree of magnitude higher abundance.