LSU scientists’ research into why the largest penguin colony in Antarctica is half the size it once was may hold clues as to how climate change will affect the birds.

“Understanding the past diets and population movements of penguins will help us better understand how these predators, and the Antarctic marine ecosystem as a whole, will respond to current challenges such as global climate change and expanding commercial fisheries,” LSU Assistant Professor Michael Polito, the principal investigator of the project, said in a news release.

Polito said researchers’ goal is to use penguins as “sensitive indicators” of past changes in the Antarctic marine environment.

Samples from the recently discovered super-colony of penguins will allow scientists to track the penguins’ diets and population movements in relation to natural and human-induced shifts in climate and food availability, he said.