New research coming from the University of Delaware suggests that man-made climate change will be a significant threat to the Adelie penguins of Antarctica. This species has been around for 45,000 years, and have adapted through thousands of years of climate change, but the rate at which the change has occurred in the last 100 years may be too much for the flightless birds to overcome.
Based on current predictive models, “up to 60 percent of the current Adélie penguin habitat in Antarctica could be unfit to host colonies by the end of the century. “
The Adelie penguin is currently common along the entire coast of Antarctica. Along with the Emperor penguin, the two birds are the only true Antarctic penguins. They are named after Adele Dumont D;Urville, the wife of explorer, Jules who discovered these penguins in 1840.
In 2014, an estimated 3.79 million breeding pairs of Adelie penguins existed, in 251 separate breeding colonies. This was a huge increase over the previous census two decades prior. Some colonies decline, but others more than make up for their size.
However, this surge of population could be ending soon, as researchers look at the two main ways climate change will effect the birds: the availability of food and the quality of nesting habitats. If the oceans are warmer, the amount of prey could decrease. When the fish population declines, the penguins switch their diet to krill, which is not as nutritious. In addition, nesting sites are of major concern, as a warming climate may see more rain and puddles. Researchers explain “For penguins who lay their eggs on the ground … rain and puddles are bad because eggs can’t survive when they’re lying in a pool of water. Chicks that don’t have waterproof feathers can become wet and die from hypothermia.”
The concern for the penguin habitats is real, but the projections do offer a little hope. There are plenty of locations in the southern latitudes where the penguins could make their homes. In addition, it will be imperative for the 30 countries who research on the continent to comes together to prioritize conservation efforts for the Antarctic wildlife. A joint effort could lead to protected habitats and areas of refuge for the Adelie penguins, ensuring their thriving success for the years to come.
Source: National Geographic
PHOTO CREDIT: By Photographed by Brocken Inaglory – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1985680