As climate change worsens, king penguins will need to move — or they’ll die

Apple will store some iCloud encryption keys in China, raising security concerns
February 26, 2018
Apple confirms it now uses Google Cloud for iCloud services
February 26, 2018



If we do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions to cope with climate change, by the end of the century, 70 percent of king penguins could face a difficult decision: find a new home or die, according to new research.
King penguins live on islands scattered throughout the Southern Ocean, the waters that surround Antarctica. Birds can swim up to 310 miles (500 kilometers) to feed on lantern fish, squid and krill in a food belt that surrounds the continent. But climate models show that this food belt will increasingly come closer to the South Pole, forcing penguins to swim farther to eat. By the year 2100, penguins are expected to migrate to other islands or up to 70 percent of them could disappear, according to a study published today in Nature Climate Change.

Photo of Céline Le Bohec / CNRS / IPEV / CSM

"Wow," says Michelle LaRue, a research ecologist at the University of Minnesota, who was not involved in the study. "That's not something I would have expected." Unlike its closest relatives, the emperor penguin, king penguins do not live on sea ice. In fact, they only live on ice-free islands. Then, in a warming world, one would expect penguins that do not need ice to reproduce, do well, LaRue tells The Verge. But today's study shows that the cascading effects of climate change are incredibly complex and can affect species in different ways.
For king penguins, the future is bleak. "We know that penguin populations will soon collapse," says study co-author Céline Le Bohec, an ecologist at the Hubert Curien Multi-disciplinary Institute in France, in an email to The Verge. "They show us the tip of the iceberg of what is happening in the ecosystems."
Today, there are approximately 3.2 million adult king penguins in breeding in the world that are currently not vulnerable to extinction. The largest colonies exist in the Crozet Islands, an archipelago halfway between Madagascar and Antarctica. During the summer, these penguins swim between 186 and 310 miles (300 to 500 kilometers) to find their food, sometimes staying at sea for months, says Le Bohec. The birds feed on a particularly rich band of water surrounding the Antarctic, called the Antarctic Polar Front. Here, the cold waters meet the warmest waters of the temperate regions, maintaining a flowering of marine life, from plankton to krill and fish. King penguins depend on this food to survive.

Photo of Céline Le Bohec / CNRS / IPEV / CSM

But the Antarctic Polar Front is expected to change as the world heats up. As the temperature of the ocean surface rises, this food belt that surrounds Antarctica will be closer to the South Pole, says study co-author Emiliano Trucchi, a researcher at the Università degli Studi di Ferrara in Italy. This will force the king penguins to swim farther to feed: the birds that live on the Crozet Islands, for example, must swim 700 miles to reach the Antarctic Polar Front. That will require more energy from the adults, and will mean less food for the chicks waiting at home, putting the penguins at risk. "It seems that for this archipelago, there is not much hope in the future," Trucchi tells The Verge.
By combining climate projections with genomic and environmental data, Trucchi, Le Bohec and their colleagues discovered that half of the world's king penguins will completely lose their habitat, as in the Crozet and Prince Edward Islands. And 70 percent of king penguins, about 1.1 million breeding pairs, will have to move to other islands or disappear before the end of the century. "I'm worried about the future of the species," says Le Bohec.

Photo of Céline Le Bohec / CNRS / IPEV / CSM

Relocating king penguins is complicated. Because they live only on ice-free islands that are around 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) throughout the year and breed on sandy or pebble beaches, finding a new home is difficult. The massive migration could mean that king penguins will enter a competition for space and food with other species of penguins, says Trucchi.
The way to avoid all this mess – and the extinction of many more species – is obviously to address climate change by reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases that trap heat. "It's important to act, to try to do something," says Trucchi. "It depends on what kind of Earth you want to live in the future: empty or full of nice species around us."

ICS
ICS

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept that my given data and my IP address is sent to a server in the USA only for the purpose of spam prevention through the Akismet program.More information on Akismet and GDPR.