Estimating the relative abundance of emperor penguins at inaccessible colonies using satellite imagery
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Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) populations are useful environmental indicators due to the bird’s extreme reliance on sea ice. We used remote sensing technology to estimate relative adult bird abundance at two inaccessible emperor penguin colonies in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. We performed supervised classification of 12 panchromatic satellite images of the seven known Ross Sea colonies. We used regression to predict adult bird counts at the inaccessible colonies by relating the number of pixels classified as “penguin” in the satellite images of the accessible colonies to corresponding known adult bird counts from aerial photographs or ground counts. While our analysis was hampered by excessive guano and shadows, we used satellite imagery to differentiate between relatively small (<3,000 adult birds) and larger colonies (>5,000 adult birds). Remote sensing technology is logistically less intense and less costly than aerial or ground censuses when the objective is to document penguin presence and/or large emperor penguin population changes (e.g., catastrophic changes). Improvements expected soon in the resolution of the satellite images should allow for more accurate abundance estimates.