New research shows that climate change may vastly devastate Adélie penguin colonies by 2099. Nearly two-thirds of the penguins, which live only in Antarctica, could be gone within this century due to warming sea surfaces not conducive for penguin chicks. In a Scientific Reports study, researchers warned that the excessive warmth linked with climate change is extremely harmful to the species. “It is only in recent decades that we know Adélie penguins population declines are associated with warming, which suggests that many regions of Antarctica have warmed too much and that further warming is no longer positive for the species,” lead author Dr. Megan Cimino said.
Adélie penguin colonies are centralized across the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP), among the fastest-warming places on Earth, and populations have already shown declines in response. More than any other region, WAP has faced warmer than normal sea surface temperature in recent years, a condition known as “novel climate”. According to Cimino, penguin numbers have decreased by around 80% since significantly higher temperatures were noted. “These two things seem to be happening in the WAP at a higher rate than in other areas during the same time period,” Cimino noted.
Climate projections reveal that this region will continue to experience increasingly frequent years of novel climate this century, presenting a threat that could ravage already-fragile penguin populations. Researchers examined a wide range of global climate models and satellite data, as penguin colonies can now be seen and studied from space. Based on their findings, 30% of current Adélie penguins could disappear by 2060, and 60% could be gone by 2099.
Intriguingly, researchers found that in areas where climate change is slow, Adélie numbers are “steady or increasing”, further strengthening the link between climate change and Adélie decline. Scientists hope that these slow-to-warm spots will become refugia, or places for once widespread but now isolated animal populations to survive, even if that survival remains tenuous. East Antarctic peninsula Cape Adare, is one such spot where climate changes have been less extreme. Said Cimino, “The Cape Adare region of the Ross Sea is home to the earliest known penguin occupation and has the largest known Adélie penguin rookery in the world. Though the climate there is expected to warm a bit, it looks like it could be a refugium in the future, and if you look back over geologic time it was likely one in the past.”
Extrapolating on current climate change patterns, these scientists predicted surviving Antarctic penguins will concentrate in southern Antarctica over the next century.
Source: Worley, Will. “Climate change ‘to devastate penguin populations in Antarctica by up to 60 per cent by the end of the century’.” Independent. 29 June 2016
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