Dr Louise Emmerson

Dr Louise Emmerson in Antarctica.
Dr Louise Emmerson (Photo: AAD)

Dr Louise Emmerson: BSc (Hons), PhD
Senior Research Scientist: quantitative ecology

Research interests

I studied applied mathematics, botany and zoology at the University of Adelaide and completed my Honours project on the impacts of small-scale disturbance on the recruitment of fucoid algae (brown seaweed). During my PhD, through the University of Adelaide and the Australian National University, I used Erodiophyllum elderi (a desert daisy) to study the relevance of metapopulation theory to plants. After my PhD I moved to Tasmania and studied Undaria pinnatafida (an invasive seaweed) at CSIRO, and ecosystem indicators of river health, such as water bugs and physical features of the ecosystem, at the University of Tasmania.

I came to the Australian Antarctic Division in 2001 to study Adélie penguin population dynamics in East Antarctica. As a quantitative ecologist I have had the common theme of using mathematical and statistical approaches to understand the ecology of ecosystems. I am interested in revealing the drivers of population dynamics – what governs their spatial and temporal changes – and to use this to better predict population responses to a changing environment. Part of my work with the Béchervaise Island penguin population involves analysing data from the long-term CCAMLR Ecosystem Monitoring Program (CEMP) site. By understanding how the penguins respond to changes in the environment and changes in prey availability we will better be able to detect negative impacts from future krill fisheries in the east Antarctic sector of the Southern Ocean, and to distinguish these from effects due to changing climate. Our work also looks at differences in breeding phenology (timing) and reproductive success – which we have found is related to the amount of fast ice present immediately adjacent their breeding sites. The more extensive the fast ice, the lower the reproductive success, due mainly to the forced traverse across the ice to reach open water to forage.

A large component of my work focuses on summer and winter tracking studies of Adélie penguins and snow petrels at Mawson, Davis and Casey, to understand their foraging behaviour – where they are foraging , their interaction with the sea ice, and how closely associated their foraging location is with particular environmental features. We have found that Adélie penguins can travel 4500 km from their colonies during the winter months, while in summer they remain within 450 km of the colony. This research will help us predict what may happen to seabird populations in a changing climate, and the overlap between seabird foraging areas and any future krill fishing activities.

I am also passionately interested in scientific education and am actively involved in the Scientists in Schools program, as well as other classroom visits. I have spent much time in the desert regions of South Australia, at the site of Australia’s longest vegetation monitoring program, with international student volunteers, teaching them about ecology, global social and environmental responsibilities, and encouraging them to be more sensitive to and aware of their environment. 

Current projects

Predator research survey and monitoring in support of CCAMLR's management of the krill fishery (#2722)

International representation/collaboration

  • CCAMLR Working Group on Ecosystem Monitoring and Management
  • Delegate, Scientific Committee for CCAMLR

Key outcome areas

  • Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
  • Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS)

Related links

Selected publications

Emmerson L.M. and Southwell C. (2011). Adélie penguin survival: age structure, temporal variability and environmental influences. Oecologia 167. 951–965.

Emmerson L.M. and Southwell C. (2008). Sea-ice cover and its influence on Adélie penguin reproductive performance. Ecology 89: 2096–2102.

Emmerson L.M., Pike R., and Southwell C. (2011). Reproductive consequences of environment-driven variation in Adélie penguin breeding phenology. Marine Ecology Progress Series 440. 203–216.

Emmerson L.M., Facelli J.M., Chesson P.L., Possingham H.P., and Day J.R. (2012). Changes in seed dispersal processes and the potential for between-patch connectivity for an arid land daisy. Ecology 93: 544–553.

Clarke J., Emmerson L.M., and Otahal P. (2006). Environmental conditions and life history constraints determine foraging range in breeding Adélie penguins. Marine Ecology Progress Series 310: 247–261.

Tierney M., Emmerson L.M., and Hindell M. (2009). Temporal variation in Adélie penguin diet at Béchervaise Island, east Antarctica and its relationship to reproductive performance. Marine Biology 156: 1633–1645.

Emmerson L.M., Southwell C., and Clarke J. (2006). Modelling variability and estimating power to detect change in Adélie penguin fledgling weights. CCAMLR Science 13: 191–200.

Emmerson L.M., Clarke J., Kerry K.R., and Southwell C. (2003). Temporal variability and the interrelationships between CEMP parameters collected on Adélie penguins at Béchervaise Island. CCAMLR Science 10: 75–90.