Friday 30th September 2016                 Change text size:

Study shows penguins are adapting to changing Antarctic environment



Photo: Anne Fröhlich via Flickr

Emperor penguins have shown to be not as attached to their nesting locations as previously thought, meaning that they could adapt much easier to their changing environment, which is being affected by rising global temperatures.

A new study by the University of Minnesota has observed penguins’ movements over the nesting period and found a new colony on the Antarctic Peninsula, which is believed to have relocated.

Lead author of the study Michelle LaRue explained, “Our research showing that colonies seem to appear and disappear throughout the years challenges behaviours we thought we understood about emperor penguins.

“If we assume that these birds come back to the same locations every year, without fail, these new colonies we see on satellite images wouldn’t make any sense. These birds didn’t just appear out of thin air they had to have come from somewhere else. This suggests that emperor penguins move among colonies. That means we need to revisit how we interpret population changes and the causes of those changes.”

Emperor penguins are one of the species worst affected by melting ice, with separate research showing they often have to climb up walls of ice 100ft high to reach new breeding grounds.

In Pointe Géologie in the Southern Ocean, a colony that also featured in the acclaimed 2005 documentary film March of the Penguins was believed to have declined by half, but the new study argues that instead the birds might have simply relocated.

LaRue added, “It’s possible that birds have moved away from Pointe Géologie to these other spots and that means that maybe those banded birds didn’t die.

“If we want to accurately conserve the species, we really need to know the basics. We’ve just learned something unexpected, and we should rethink how we interpret colony fluctuations.”

Photo: Anne Fröhlich via Flickr

Further reading:

Penguins scale cliffs to escape climate change

Stable population helps species adapt to climate change

Climate change will bring ‘staggering’ deep-sea ecosystem changes

Climate change linked to penguin chicks deaths in Argentina

Antarctica’s Ross Sea could be ice-free by 2100, threatening ‘ocean’s most pristine ecosystem’


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