Tourism and stress hormone measures in Gentoo Penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula

Abstract

The impacts of tourism on wildlife have long been a concern in areas where ecotourism is a major industry. The issue is especially pressing in Antarctica, which has a rapidly growing tourism industry largely concentrated around penguin colonies on the Antarctic Peninsula. Guidelines developed by both the Committee for Environmental Protection and the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators include measures to minimize wildlife impacts. In this study, we examined the relationship between physiologic stress in Gentoo Penguins (Pygoscelis papua) and tourism. Corticosterone is an adrenal glucocorticoid that has been shown in previous studies to increase in response to stressors such as low food availability, environmental conditions, as well as human visitation and proximity. Fecal glucocorticoids (FGM; primarily corticosterone and metabolites) were measured in Gentoo Penguin guano collected at 19 breeding colonies (n = 108, 3–10 samples per site) on the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands, representing a wide range of tourism visitation. We found a large degree of variation in FGM concentrations, and no relationship between FGM concentrations and number of tourists landed at that site. These results suggest that current tourism management guidelines on the Antarctic Peninsula are effective at preventing increased stress in Gentoo Penguins as measured by hormonal markers, and demonstrate the use of guano as a non-invasive, low-impact methodology for monitoring Gentoo Penguin stress.

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Acknowledgements

We thank C. Foley and B. Gonçalves for help in field collection. We also thank Oceanites Inc. and One Ocean Expeditions for travel and field support and IAATO for detailed data on tourism activities.

Funding

Funding was provided by Oceanites, Inc., National Aeronautics and Space Administration Grant NNX16AO27H and National Science Foundation Award 1255058.

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Authors

Contributions

M.A.L. and C.Y. collected data; M.A.O and N.H.A validated the assay for use in penguin samples; N.H.A. processed samples and calculated the final concentrations; M.A.L analyzed data; M.A.L, C.Y. and H.J.L formulated questions, and all authors contributed to the written manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Maureen A. Lynch.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted (Stony Brook University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee permit # 2011-1881-R1-6.19.20-BI, Antarctic Conservation Act permit #2016-013, United States Department of Agriculture permit #126,132).

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Lynch, M.A., Youngflesh, C., Agha, N.H. et al. Tourism and stress hormone measures in Gentoo Penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula. Polar Biol 42, 1299–1306 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-019-02518-z

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Keywords

  • Stress
  • Pygoscelis papua
  • IAATO
  • Tourism
  • Visitor guidelines