Gentoo Penguin breeding programs suffer from a lack of genetic diversity that could limit conservation efforts due to limited opportunities for natural selection and incomplete subspecies classification and insufficient phylogenetic analyses of Gentoos’ mitochondrial DNA. Successful Gentoo breeding programs seek to ensure that healthy, biodiverse Gentoo Penguins in captivity can sustain the species should they become critically endangered. The current threats to wild Gentoo Penguin colonies include krill fishing, oil mining, and habitat degradation due to tourism. Organizations such as the Pew Charitable Trusts call for action from the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), an international organization consisting of 24 countries and the European Union, to exercise their authority to create large-scale, fully protected marine reserves in the seas surrounding Antarctica. (Kavanagh, 2014)
Zoos and aquariums worldwide participate in breeding programs that face challenges such as the one Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Utah discovered when DNA testing identified socially bonded in their Gentoo colony mating with other Gentoos. This revealed that behavioral observations are insufficient to prevent inbreeding and a homogenous population. (Klein, 2018) This is turn, led the Aquarium, which is partnered with other breeding programs worldwide, to reassess their documentation of familial lineages.
A lack of breeding diversity proved problematic for the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums who suspected that they identified a third penguin pedigree of unknown origins. Researchers used phylogenetic analyses of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) to clarify the Gentoos’ phylogenetic tree. The final study, published by the Ornithological Society of Japan, proves that comprehensive genetic testing is necessary to ensure the success of breeding programs. Additionally, phylogenetic analysis is necessary for accurate pedigree management of captive Gentoo Penguins in breeding programs. (Kando, et al., 2021)
Studying genetic variations between captive and wild Gentoo Penguins can reveal the biological changes and adaptations that occur in ex situ Gentoos. Observational evidence, such as the Gentoos studied at Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, suggests that genetic adaptations affect Gentoo Penguins’ behavior in captivity. By incorporating the studies of genetics and behavioral science, a clearer picture of what Gentoo Penguins need to be successful in future conservation efforts. If Gentoos are reclassified as critically endangered, captive colonies must be genetically diverse enough to continue the species, possibly as they are reintroduced to the wild.
Conservation efforts rely on genetic and behavioral data from captive and wild Gentoos. A database for zookeepers and wildlife biologists to record phylogenetic analyses of the penguins will help conservationists and breeding programs provide the most natural habitats to encourage compatible mating pairs to produce healthy offspring. This is especially important for multigenerational selective breeding programs which require accurate phylogenetic trees. Wildlife biologists will be able to track the wild Gentoo population’s genetics to understand how subspecies evolve and which haplotypes help penguins thrive in the wild amidst climate change and ecosystem variations.
If zookeepers and biologists can study the correlation between Gentoo Penguins’ phylogenetic trees via analyses of their mtDNA and observable behavior, both in captivity and the wild, via a comprehensive database, then breeding programs will be more successful in preparing captive Gentoo Penguins to reintegrate into the wild.
Kando, C., Ota, N., Ono, K., Tsunokawa, M., Niino, M., Tsuda, T. T., Shiina, T., Kulski, J. K., Kita, Y. F., & Suzuki, S. (2021). Subspecies Identification of Captive Gentoo Penguins in Japan, Using Mitochondrial DNA Phylogeny for Their Pedigree Management. Ornithological Science, 1, 93. https://doiorg.proxy1.unity.edu/10.2326/osj.20.93
I chose to include Subspecies Identification of Captive Gentoo Penguins in Japan, Using Mitochondrial DNA Phylogeny for Their Pedigree Management in my research because it discusses the genetic implication of captive breeding. The researchers assess the problems of genetic homogony, inaccurate record keeping, and a solution—using mtDNA to create accurate phylogenetic trees. The research methods offers an excellent foundation which hope to build upon to better understand how breeding programs can ensure the survival of the Gentoo species. Additionally, the research examines the occurrence of subspecies in captive breeding and offers considerations to breed healthy, genetically diverse Gentoos who could thrive in the wild should the species ever become critically endangered. While the research was conducted on Gentoo Penguins in Japan, considerations are made for Gentoos at breeding programs worldwide. Finally, the research is current (less than a year old), peer reviewed, and cited accurately.
Kavanagh, A. (2014, October). Conserving Gentoo Penguins. The Pew Charitable Trusts https://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/assets/2014/10/ccamlr/conserving_gentoo_penguins_fact_sheet.pdf.
The PDF Conserving Gentoo Penguins, published by the Pew Charitable Trusts, is an excellent source of information on wild conservation. If breeding programs need to release Gentoo Penguins into the wild, their efforts will be fruitless if there are no sustainable changes made to preserving wild habitat. This PDF provides practical ideas to ensure habitat preservation and calls on specific agencies with the power to enforce international law. The Pew Charitable Trusts has a reputation for producing well-researched, accurate information which is why I included it even though it is not a peer-reviewed publication. Finally, the PDF includes accurate and reliable citations and is overseen by qualified professionals.
Klein, J. (2018, August 16). Do Penguins Mate for Life? Not According to These Paternity Tests. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/16/science/penguins-monogamy-paternity-tests.html.
The article Do Penguins Mate for Life? Not According to These Paternity Tests by Johanna Klein of the New York Times describes a common problems that breeding programs face: unreliable behavioral observation. Klein discusses the mismatch between observable behavior and the results of genetic testing. The article discusses the problem and presents the solution of DNA testing Gentoo chicks to ensure accurate studbook and pedigree records. Klein also outlines the devastating impact inbreeding could have not only on individual colonies, but on international breeding programs and conservation efforts. Klein’s reputation, along with that of the New York Times, makes this article a reliable source.
Pertierra, L., Segovia, N., Noll, D., Martinez, P., Pliscoff, P., Barbosa, A., . . . Vianna, J. (2020). Cryptic speciation in gentoo penguins is driven by geographic isolation and regional marine conditions: Unforeseen vulnerabilities to global change. Diversity and Distributions, 26(8), 958-975. Retrieved May 16, 2021, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/26919974
This peer-reviewed research presents information on Gentoo Penguin subspecies found in the wild. Factors the researchers considered include are spatially explicit ecological conditions that have limited gene flow, limited genetic differentiation, and limited speciation process. This study also utilizes haplotype sequencing using mtDNA, but on wild colonies. The importance of understanding the genetics of both captive and wild Gentoos is essential to conservation programs. In addition to providing novel research and solutions, this research is peer reviewed, well cited and sponsored by multiple universities.
William F. McComas. (1988). Variation, Adaptation and Evolution at the Zoo. The American Biology Teacher, 50(6), 379-383. doi:10.2307/4448766
Variation, Adaptation and Evolution at the Zoo by William F. McComas, describes the challenges associated with multi-generational breeding programs including the animals’ tendency to experience genetic variations and behavioral changes in captivity. McComas explains convergent evolution and the possible complications of housing species together that would not naturally cohabitate in the wild. He also presents ideas for how to predict future evolutionary trends and how to avoid problems before they arise. McComas’ writing is sponsored by the American Biology Teacher, and is well cited which makes it a reputable source of information.