MSc study opportunity at the Fitz: Tracking adult African Penguins

22 May 2013 - 12:30

Full-time study opportunity for an MSc at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town

Tracking adult African Penguins outside the breeding season 
Supervisors: Dr Ross WanlessProf Peter RyanDr Lorien Pichegru and Christina Moseley 

Project outline: 
This is a collaborative project between BirdLife South Africa and the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology 

Numbers of African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus) in South Africa have decreased drastically in the last decade, due to a lack of food. Breeding penguins are central place foragers, and studies over the last decade have shown that breeding adults need to find sufficient food within ca 50 km of their colonies in order to breed successfully. Outside the breeding season adults should be less spatially constrained as they do not have to care for eggs or chicks. However, adult survival estimates have decreased sharply over the last decade, suggesting that they may not be moving to areas where fish stocks are abundant. There is thus a pressing need to know where adult African Penguins go when not breeding, in order to identify potential threats during this time. This project will focus on the pre-moult and post-moult fattening periods as breeding and moulting are energetically expensive activities, requiring large fat reserves. 
This project aims to identify areas along the coastline of South Africa where adult African Penguins go in order to feed and gain weight before moulting and breeding. These areas will then be compared to the fishing areas of the commercial purse-seine fishing vessels to determine the degree of overlap with the fishery. The results will be used to identify whether or not these periods of adult penguins’ life cycle are vulnerable to fishing, and if appropriate help to advise on fishery management, especially spatial management. 

Tracking was undertaken on pre-moult penguins at Dassen Island and Bird Island (Algoa Bay) in 2012. This Masters thesis will build on the work that has been conducted and also track post-moulting penguins. The project will involve field work and the use of state-of the art technology (satellite tracking), as well as GIS data analysis methods. 

Applications and funding: 
Applicants should ideally be available to start field work in August 2013. 

Applicants should have a BSc (Hons) in Zoology or equivalent. The successful applicant will be awarded an MSc bursary of R35 000 for the remainder of 2013 and R80 000 for 2014.

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