Small no-take zones can help top predators

ResearchBlogging.orgIt’s difficult to protect large marine areas from fishing – a great deal of resources must be put into patrolling and enforcing such an area. However, new research suggests that small but well-targeted protection zones can have a significant effect all the way up the food chain.

African Penguin
African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus) are a vulnerable species of penguin restricted to South Africa. They are threatened by human activities, such as egg collection and oil spills. Their population dropped by about 90% in the 20th Century, and has continued to drop since. There are now fewer than 26,000 breeding pairs.

Top predators, such as these penguins, are important members of an ecosystem, and removing them from an environment can ripple throughout the web in drastic ways. Pichegru et. al. (2010) looks at the effects of a small no-take zone around a penguin colony has on the success of the colony, comparing it with another nearby colony which did not get a protected zone. They measured the duration and length of their hunting trips, diving time and dive depth to calculate the effort expended by the penguins in finding food.

Over just three months, the protection had a substantial effect on the penguins. Overall, the penguins in the protected zone spent less time hunting, travelled shorter distances and stayed closer to the colony, reducing their effort spent foraging effort by 25-30%. This meant that they were able to spend an extra 5 hours each day on their eggs. They also shifted their hunting patterns – before the protected zone was created, they foraged in it about a quarter of the time, but by the end of the study they were doing over 70% of their hunting inside the zone.

It is interesting that the penguins in the control colony lost weight and spent longer foraging during the study period. It’s possible that protecting the one area shifted more of human fishing into the area around the other island. However, the positive effects on the protected colony far outweighed the negatives on the control island, and in any case the fishing wouldn’t all be shifted to the other colony. This study also didn’t look at what effects the protection may have had on the breeding or survival of the penguins – which, of course, is an important question.

Study location


Pichegru, L., Gremillet, D., Crawford, R., & Ryan, P. (2010). Marine no-take zone rapidly benefits endangered penguin Biology Letters, 6 (4), 498-501 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0913

What options would those be?

Intelligent design proponent (and young earth creationist) David Tyler has a post on the ARN blog about a fossil pelican’s beak. The short version is that it seems that there was a pelican with a beak similar to that of a modern pelican flying around 30 million years ago.

The gist of David’s argument is this:

What we are seeing here is a particular type of stasis, and it concerns complexity. Much diversification has little or no effect on complexity and examples of diversification therefore have little or no bearing on the origin of complexity. The pelican beak, however, is not just a big beak! There are numerous coordinated elements that have to be present for the beak to function at all. The fossil find is important because the earliest fossil of a pelican exhibits the full functionality of the modern birds. As far as the known fossil record is concerned, complexity was present – before the radiation of the Pelecanidae.

Over 65 millions ago there were dinosaurs. Many of them were fairly complex. It’s hardly surprising that there were complex things a mere 30 million years ago. Unless he’s basing the argument off Lord Kelvin’s estimate of the age of the Earth, there’s really nothing more there.

Evidently, the pelican beak in much its current form at least 30 million years ago. This fossil puts pelican beak evolution back at least that far, and there is certainly an interesting question as to why it hasn’t changed in that time. But it is not evidence that the pelican beak did not evolve.

Yes, this makes stasis in the pelican beak intriguing and it means that Darwinism has nothing to offer by way of an explanation. New explanations should include the options opened up by intelligent design.

I can only wonder what those options might be.