The identification bands that researchers put on penguins' flippers seriously handicap the birds, according to research published online by a team of ecologists this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In a sort of Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle for ecology, the findings suggest that the results of some studies could be unreliable and may mean that work on endangered penguin species is harming the animals it is trying to save, said authors of the study.

Banded king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) arrived at their breeding colonies up to 3 weeks later than unencumbered birds, Yvon Le Maho and his colleagues found when they monitored 100 penguins living on Possession Island in the Crozet Archipelago, in the southern Indian Ocean for 5 years.

By implanting electronic tags under the skin of penguins, Le Maho's team could carry out the first long-term study comparing banded with unbanded birds. The...

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