Polito Michael J.

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Michael J.

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  • Article
    Integrating oxidative ecology into conservation physiology
    (Oxford University Press on behalf of The Society for Experimental Biology., 2013-04-05) Beaulieu, Michael ; Thierry, Anne-Mathilde ; Gonzalez-Acuna, Daniel ; Polito, Michael J.
    Ecologists have recently shown great interest in using physiological markers as indicators of the health of animal populations. In this context, the measurement of markers of oxidative balance, such as antioxidant defences and oxidative damage, may be a valuable tool. Indeed, at the individual level, antioxidant defences are positively associated with fertility and survival probability, while elevated oxidative damage during reproduction or growth may negatively affect recruitment and survival. Therefore, variation in oxidative balance is likely to influence demographic processes. This suggests that conservationists may be able to use oxidative markers to monitor population health. Yet, the connection between these markers and demographic parameters first needs to be established. We present here preliminary results obtained in colonies of breeding Gentoo (Pygoscelis papua) and Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae), showing that antioxidant defences strongly reflect population trends. However, population trend was not related to oxidative damage. This suggests that in the context of the emerging field of conservation physiology, antioxidant defences may represent a key parameter to monitor population health. We therefore exhort other research teams to assess the generality of this finding in other biological models, especially in species of conservation concern.
  • Article
    Google haul out : Earth observation imagery and digital aerial surveys in coastal wildlife management and abundance estimation
    (Oxford University Press, 2017-06-14) Moxley, Jerry ; Bogomolni, Andrea L. ; Hammill, Mike O. ; Moore, Kathleen M. T. ; Polito, Michael J. ; Sette, Lisa ; Sharp, W. Brian ; Waring, Gordon T. ; Gilbert, James R. ; Halpin, Patrick N. ; Johnston, David W.
    As the sampling frequency and resolution of Earth observation imagery increase, there are growing opportunities for novel applications in population monitoring. New methods are required to apply established analytical approaches to data collected from new observation platforms (e.g., satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles). Here, we present a method that estimates regional seasonal abundances for an understudied and growing population of gray seals (Halichoerus grypus) in southeastern Massachusetts, using opportunistic observations in Google Earth imagery. Abundance estimates are derived from digital aerial survey counts by adapting established correction-based analyses with telemetry behavioral observation to quantify survey biases. The result is a first regional understanding of gray seal abundance in the northeast US through opportunistic Earth observation imagery and repurposed animal telemetry data. As species observation data from Earth observation imagery become more ubiquitous, such methods provide a robust, adaptable, and cost-effective solution to monitoring animal colonies and understanding species abundances.
  • Preprint
    Stable isotope analyses of feather amino acids identify penguin migration strategies at ocean basin scales
    ( 2017-07) Polito, Michael J. ; Hinke, Jefferson T. ; Hart, Tom ; Santos, Mercedes ; Houghton, Leah A. ; Thorrold, Simon R.
    Identifying the at-sea distribution of wide ranging 20 marine predators is critical to understanding their ecology. Advances in electronic tracking devices and intrinsic biogeochemical markers have greatly improved our ability to track animal movements on ocean-wide scales. Here we show that, in combination with direct tracking, stable carbon isotope analysis of essential amino acids in tail feathers provides the ability to track the movement patterns of two, wide-ranging penguin species over ocean basin scales. In addition, we use this isotopic approach across multiple breeding colonies in the Scotia Arc to evaluate migration trends at a regional scale that would be logistically challenging using direct tracking alone.
  • Article
    A reversal of fortunes : climate change ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in Antarctic Peninsula penguins
    (Nature Publishing Group, 2014-06-12) Clucas, Gemma V. ; Dunn, Michael J. ; Dyke, Gareth ; Emslie, Steven D. ; Levy, Hila ; Naveen, Ron ; Polito, Michael J. ; Pybus, Oliver G. ; Rogers, Alex D. ; Hart, Tom
    Climate change is a major threat to global biodiversity. Antarctic ecosystems are no exception. Investigating past species responses to climatic events can distinguish natural from anthropogenic impacts. Climate change produces ‘winners’, species that benefit from these events and ‘losers’, species that decline or become extinct. Using molecular techniques, we assess the demographic history and population structure of Pygoscelis penguins in the Scotia Arc related to climate warming after the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). All three pygoscelid penguins responded positively to post-LGM warming by expanding from glacial refugia, with those breeding at higher latitudes expanding most. Northern (Pygoscelis papua papua) and Southern (Pygoscelis papua ellsworthii) gentoo sub-species likely diverged during the LGM. Comparing historical responses with the literature on current trends, we see Southern gentoo penguins are responding to current warming as they did during post-LGM warming, expanding their range southwards. Conversely, Adélie and chinstrap penguins are experiencing a ‘reversal of fortunes’ as they are now declining in the Antarctic Peninsula, the opposite of their response to post-LGM warming. This suggests current climate warming has decoupled historic population responses in the Antarctic Peninsula, favoring generalist gentoo penguins as climate change ‘winners’, while Adélie and chinstrap penguins have become climate change ‘losers’.
  • Article
    Spatial and isotopic niche partitioning during winter in chinstrap and Adélie penguins from the South Shetland Islands
    (Ecological Society of America, 2015-07-29) Hinke, Jefferson T. ; Polito, Michael J. ; Goebel, Michael E. ; Jarvis, Sharon ; Reiss, Christian S. ; Thorrold, Simon R. ; Trivelpiece, Wayne Z. ; Watters, George M.
    Closely related species with similar ecological requirements should exhibit segregation along spatial, temporal, or trophic niche axes to limit the degree of competitive overlap. For migratory marine organisms like seabirds, assessing such overlap during the non-breeding period is difficult because of long-distance dispersal to potentially diffuse foraging habitats. Miniaturization of geolocation devices and advances in stable isotope analysis (SIA), however, provide a robust toolset to quantitatively track the movements and foraging niches of wide ranging marine animals throughout much of their annual cycle. We used light-based geolocation tags and analyzed stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes from tail feathers to simultaneously characterize winter movements, habitat utilization, and overlap of spatial and isotopic niches of migratory chinstrap (Pygoscelis antarctica) and Adélie (P. adeliae) penguins during the austral winter of 2012. Chinstrap penguins exhibited a higher diversity of movements and occupied portions of the Southern Ocean from 138° W to 30° W within a narrow latitudinal band centered on 60° S. In contrast, all tracked Adélie penguins exhibited smaller-scale movements into the Weddell Sea and then generally along a counter-clockwise path as winter advanced. Inter-specific overlap during the non-breeding season was low except during the months immediately adjacent to the summer breeding season. Intra-specific overlap by chinstraps from adjacent breeding colonies was higher throughout the winter. Spatial segregation appears to be the primary mechanism to maintain inter- and intra-specific niche separation during the non-breeding season for chinstrap and Adélie penguins. Despite low spatial overlap, however, the data do suggest that a narrow pelagic corridor in the southern Scotia Sea hosted both chinstrap and Adélie penguins for most months of the year. Shared occupancy and similar isotopic signatures of the penguins in that region suggests that the potential for inter-specific competition persists during the winter months. Finally, we note that SIA was able to discriminate eastward versus westward migrations in penguins, suggesting that SIA of tail feathers may provide useful information on population-level distribution patterns for future studies.
  • Article
    Multi-modal survey of Adélie penguin mega-colonies reveals the Danger Islands as a seabird hotspot
    (Nature Publishing Group, 2018-03-02) Borowicz, Alex ; McDowall, Philip ; Youngflesh, Casey ; Sayre-McCord, Thomas ; Clucas, Gemma V. ; Herman, Rachael ; Forrest, Steven ; Rider, Melissa ; Schwaller, Mathew ; Hart, Tom ; Jenouvrier, Stephanie ; Polito, Michael J. ; Singh, Hanumant ; Lynch, Heather J.
    Despite concerted international effort to track and interpret shifts in the abundance and distribution of Adélie penguins, large populations continue to be identified. Here we report on a major hotspot of Adélie penguin abundance identified in the Danger Islands off the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula (AP). We present the first complete census of Pygoscelis spp. penguins in the Danger Islands, estimated from a multi-modal survey consisting of direct ground counts and computer-automated counts of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery. Our survey reveals that the Danger Islands host 751,527 pairs of Adélie penguins, more than the rest of AP region combined, and include the third and fourth largest Adélie penguin colonies in the world. Our results validate the use of Landsat medium-resolution satellite imagery for the detection of new or unknown penguin colonies and highlight the utility of combining satellite imagery with ground and UAV surveys. The Danger Islands appear to have avoided recent declines documented on the Western AP and, because they are large and likely to remain an important hotspot for avian abundance under projected climate change, deserve special consideration in the negotiation and design of Marine Protected Areas in the region.
  • Preprint
    Responses of high-elevation herbaceous plant assemblages to low glacial CO2 concentrations revealed by fossil marmot (Marmota) teeth
    ( 2014-05) McLean, Bryan S. ; Ward, Joy K. ; Polito, Michael J. ; Emslie, Steven D.
    Atmospheric CO2 cycles of the Quaternary likely imposed major constraints on the physiology and growth of C3 plants worldwide. However, the measured record of this remains both geographically and taxonomically sparse. We present the first reconstruction of physiological responses in a late Quaternary high-elevation herbaceous plant community from the Southern Rocky Mountains, USA. We used a novel proxy – fossilized tooth enamel of yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris) – which we developed using detailed isotopic analysis of modern individuals. Calculated carbon isotopic discrimination (Δ) of alpine plants was nearly 2‰ lower prior to the Last Glacial Maximum than at present, a response almost identical to nonherbaceous taxa from lower elevations. However, initial shifts in Δ aligned most closely with onset of the late Pleistocene bipolar temperature ‘see-saw’ rather than CO2 increase, indicating unique limitations on glacial-age high-elevation plants may have existed due to both low temperatures and low CO2. Further development of system-specific faunal proxies can help to clarify this and other plant- and ecosystem-level responses to past environmental change.
  • Article
    Carbon and nitrogen isotope fractionation of amino acids in an avian marine predator, the gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua)
    (John Wiley & Sons, 2015-02-25) McMahon, Kelton W. ; Polito, Michael J. ; Abel, Stephanie ; McCarthy, Matthew D. ; Thorrold, Simon R.
    Compound-specific stable isotope analysis (CSIA) of amino acids (AA) has rapidly become a powerful tool in studies of food web architecture, resource use, and biogeochemical cycling. However, applications to avian ecology have been limited because no controlled studies have examined the patterns in AA isotope fractionation in birds. We conducted a controlled CSIA feeding experiment on an avian species, the gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua), to examine patterns in individual AA carbon and nitrogen stable isotope fractionation between diet (D) and consumer (C) (Δ13CC-D and Δ15NC-D, respectively). We found that essential AA δ13C values and source AA δ15N values in feathers showed minimal trophic fractionation between diet and consumer, providing independent but complimentary archival proxies for primary producers and nitrogen sources respectively, at the base of food webs supporting penguins. Variations in nonessential AA Δ13CC-D values reflected differences in macromolecule sources used for biosynthesis (e.g., protein vs. lipids) and provided a metric to assess resource utilization. The avian-specific nitrogen trophic discrimination factor (TDFGlu-Phe = 3.5 ± 0.4‰) that we calculated from the difference in trophic fractionation (Δ15NC-D) of glutamic acid and phenylalanine was significantly lower than the conventional literature value of 7.6‰. Trophic positions of five species of wild penguins calculated using a multi-TDFGlu-Phe equation with the avian-specific TDFGlu-Phe value from our experiment provided estimates that were more ecologically realistic than estimates using a single TDFGlu-Phe of 7.6‰ from the previous literature. Our results provide a quantitative, mechanistic framework for the use of CSIA in nonlethal, archival feathers to study the movement and foraging ecology of avian consumers.
  • Article
    Population dynamics and resource availability drive seasonal shifts in the consumptive and competitive impacts of introduced house mice (Mus musculus) on an island ecosystem
    (PeerJ, 2022-09-22) Polito, Michael J. ; Robinson, Bret ; Warzybok, Pete ; Bradley, Russell W.
    House mice (Mus musculus) are widespread and invasive on many islands where they can have both direct and indirect impacts on native ecological communities. Given their opportunistic, omnivorous nature the consumptive and competitive impacts of house mice on islands have the potential to vary over time in concert with resource availability and mouse population dynamics.We examined the ecological niche of invasive house mice on Southeast Farallon Island, California, USA using a combination of mouse trapping, food resource surveys, and stable isotope analysis to better understand their trophic interactions with native flora and fauna. Specifically, we coupled the analysis of seasonal variation in resource availability over a 17-year period (2001-2017), carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) stable isotope values of mouse tissue and prey resources in a single year (2013), and isotopic niche and mixing models to quantify seasonal variation in mouse diets and the potential for resource overlap with native species.We found that plants were the most important resource for house mice during the spring months when vegetation is abundant and mouse populations are low following heavy precipitation and declines in mouse abundance during the winter. While still consumed, plants declined in dietary importance throughout the summer and fall as mouse populations increased, and seabird and arthropod resources became relatively more available and consumed by house mice. Mouse abundance peaks and other resource availability are low on the island in the fall months when the isotopic niches of house mice and salamanders overlap significantly indicating the potential for competition, most likely for arthropod prey.Our results indicate how seasonal shifts in both mouse abundance and resource availability are key factors that mediate the consumptive and competitive impacts of introduced house mice on this island ecosystem. As mice consume and/or compete with a wide range of native taxa, eradication has the potential to provide wide-reaching restoration benefits on Southeast Farallon Island. Post-eradication monitoring focused on plant, terrestrial invertebrate, salamander, and seabird populations will be crucial to confirm these predictions.