Antarctica could lose most of its penguin population in the coming decades due to climate change.
Climate change is having a devastating impact on the populations of penguins. Adelie penguins, which only exist along the Antarctic coast, could be perished by man-made global warming in the coming years.
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According to new research, penguins are losing their natural habitat due to warmer waters and this habitat loss could wipe out up to 60% of their population by the end of the century.
For millions of years, Adelie penguins have been adapted well to glacial expansion and melting driven by natural climate change. But it appears that now warming has reached its tipping point and is causing to shrink their colonies and will eventually end up declining penguin populations. Projections indicate that approximately 30 percent of current Adélie colonies may be gone by 2060 and 60 percent may be lost by 2099.
“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 Megan Cimino from University of Delaware said.
Researchers used a combination of field survey data and high resolution satellite imagery to understand the population trends at each colony over the past 30 years (1981 to 2010) and then use it to predict what kind of impact changing warming patterns will have on the penguin populations in future.
Researchers found a strong connection between rising temperatures and decline in penguin populations. They report that the species is experiencing population declines along the West Antarctic Peninsula, which is a rapidly warming place while other areas around the continent where the climate is relatively stable, the population is steady or even increasing.
“Our study used massive amounts of data to run habitat suitability models. From other studies that used actual ground counts - people going and physically counting penguins – and from high resolution satellite imagery we have global estimates of Adélie penguin breeding locations, meaning where they are present and where they are absent, throughout the entire Southern Ocean. We also have estimates of population size and how their populations have changed over last few decades,” explained Cimino.
“When we combined this data with satellite information and future climate projections on sea surface temperature and sea ice, we can look at past and future changes in Adélie penguin habitat suitability.”
Researchers believe their study could pave the way for future researchers in the region and could aid in penguin conservation since it can pinpoint the areas where the species is most vulnerable to climate change.
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“The results can be used for management; they can have implications for other species that live in the area and for other ecosystem processes.” Cimino concludes.