Over the past decades, there has been considerable research done on global warming and climate change which has helped the world become more conscious of the environment we are destroying on a daily basis. A recent study, led by oceanographer Megan Cimino and her team, has been focusing on a particular penguin species called Adélie (Pygoscelis adeliae) who have been residing among the Antarctic glaciers for an estimated 45000 years, according to National Geographic.
Over time these penguins have grown to survive and adapt or die to their constantly changing living conditions as a product of millennia of climate change. However, according to Business Insider Australia, researchers predict that 30% of their population could be lost by the year 2060, and as much as 60% of the population will completely vanish by the end of the century.
Adélie, once resilient to Climate Change
The Adélie is one of two true Antarctic penguins, the other named the Emperor penguin or scientifically denoted as Aptenodytes forsteri, and inhabits the continent in its totality. The penguins breed around the vast region from October in rocky onshore areas, building nests with small stones. Then in early spring when the glaciers begin to melt, they make their way over from their nest to open water to seek their prey.
Although geological records demonstrate that these penguins have long been affected by shifts in the climate with the expansion and melting of ice affecting their movement and breeding grounds, the once beneficial melting glaciers are becoming a serious problem. Changes in temperature facilitated the penguins’ return to the breeding grounds that had once been inaccessible. However, with the record changes in climate currently identified, it may lead them to their unprecedented downfall.
Climate change affects the penguins in numerous ways, one of which is by causing a shift in their diet. Cimino explained that in areas where the amount of fish available to the species has decreased, they then have had to rely on their planktonic crustacean reserve, krill. Whereas, in other areas not as gravely affected by the change in temperature, the Adélie in such sites consume more fish which is said to be more nutritious for the birds.
The other manner in which climate change is leading the penguins towards a falling population is through the quality of penguin nesting sites. The penguins lay their eggs in the icy, rocky ground of the Antarctic; however, with warming temperatures this ice melts and turns to water. This means that the eggs then sit in puddles of melted ice where according to Cimino they cannot survive. Furthermore, such loss in ice and snow exposes chicks who have not yet developed waterproof feathers to hyperthermia.
Moreover, the Adélie is not the only penguin species in danger, if climate change continues as is, the Emperor penguin’s existence is limited to the year 2100.
Site-specific climate shifts
Researchers have been able to piece together 30 years worth of colony data collected at various sites in Antarctica between the years 1981 and 2010. By carefully observing the findings found each year, researchers were able to identify population trends at each location for three decades. The study focused on predictions the United Nations agency Intergovernmental Panel on Climate made on the various levels of warming expected for this century and was published today, June 29, 2016, in the journal Scientific Reports.
Each site demonstrated different trends; assuming that each location was affected differently or relatively unaffected by changes in climate. According to Business Insider Australia, one penguin colony native to the West Antarctic Peninsula, which is one of the most rapidly warming places on earth, experienced a population decrease of 80 percent. Research showed that locations, where a decline in numbers was reported, had gone through paramount climate shifts and/or conditions beyond those of historical observations.
Simultaneously, scientists did find sites where populations were stable or had increased. Such data reaffirms the relationship between climate change and species’ survival: those in places that are significantly exposed to climate change, will be strongly susceptible to its effects and witness a decrease in its population, which will subsequently affect another that may be its prey or predator.
Luckily all is not lost, certain climate refugia, safe havens where species can survive adverse weather, continue to exist where the colonies can migrate and thrive. An example of such is Cape Adare, a peninsula deep in South East Antarctica. Another two are the Ross and Amundsen Seas. These areas have been previously considered glacial refuges and predictions suggest they may continue to play their role in species’ survival in the future. Furthermore, what these forecasts imply is that these populations of penguins will be mostly concentrated in the south of the Antarctic over the next century.
Source: National Geographic