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Recent occupation by Adélie Penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) at Hope Bay and Seymour Island and the ‘northern enigma’ in the Antarctic Peninsula


We excavated active and abandoned Adélie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) colonies at Seymour Island and Hope Bay, Antarctic Peninsula, to determine an occupation history for this species at these sites. Previous research at Hope Bay has indicated an occupation there since the middle Holocene, based on a sediment record from Lake Boeckella. Excavations revealed only shallow and relatively fresh ornithogenic soils in the active colonies at the two localities. At least 53 abandoned pebble mounds were located at Hope Bay of which nine were excavated and four were sampled by probing to recover organic remains to determine their age. Radiocarbon dating of egg membrane, feather, and bone from both sites revealed a young occupation dating to less than ~600 years after correcting for the marine carbon reservoir effect. The mismatch in the geologic record of Adélie Penguin occupation in the northern Antarctic Peninsula, including Lake Boeckella sediments and geologic deposits and lake sediments on King George Island, with more direct evidence of breeding colonies from ornithogenic soils from active and abandoned colonies is hereby referred to as the ‘northern enigma’ as it does not occur in other regions of Antarctica including the southern Antarctic Peninsula, East Antarctica, or the Ross Sea, where the penguin record extends to the early to middle Holocene and matches well with the geologic record of deglaciation and penguin occupation. As yet, there is no convincing explanation for the ‘northern enigma’.

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This research was funded by NSF Grants ANT-0739575 and 1443585. We thank Nestor Coria and the Instituto Antártico Argentino for their support for the field component of this study, as well as personnel at Marambio and Esperanza Stations. K. Newtoff assisted with completing Fig. 2. M. Polito provided information on new radiocarbon dates at the Danger Islands.

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Correspondence to Steven D. Emslie.

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Emslie, S.D., McKenzie, A., Marti, L.J. et al. Recent occupation by Adélie Penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) at Hope Bay and Seymour Island and the ‘northern enigma’ in the Antarctic Peninsula. Polar Biol 41, 71–77 (2018).

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  • Adélie Penguin
  • Occupation history
  • Ornithogenic soils
  • Hope Bay
  • Seymour Island