Chang­ing cli­mate a threat to pen­guins

Colonies likely to dwin­dle

Taranaki Daily News - - News -

Sci­en­tists are warn­ing colonies of em­peror pen­guins could be on the brink of extinction by the century’s end due to cli­mate change.

They face the threat of sea ice thaw­ing in Antarc­tica.

New Zealand and the rest of the world em­braced the species when an em­peror pen­guin, later dubbed Happy Feet, washed up with a belly full of sticks and sand on the Kapiti Coast in 2011.

Fans fol­lowed the cast­away bird’s epic sur­vival saga as vets nursed him to re­cov­ery un­til he was re­leased back into the South­ern Ocean with a track­ing de­vice.

But new re­search pre­dicts the 45 known em­peror pen­guin colonies along the Antarc­tic coast will be in de­cline by 2100, with twothirds of colonies ex­pected to shrink to less than half of present num­bers.

The find­ings, re­ported this week in jour­nal Na­ture Cli­mate Change, are based on fore­cast shifts in Antarc­tic sea-ice con­cen­tra­tion un­der cli­mate change.

The study from the Woods Hole Oceano­graphic In­sti­tu­tion in the US warns at least three-quar­ters of colonies are vul­ner­a­ble to fu­ture sea ice change, and 20 per cent will prob­a­bly be near the edge of extinction by the turn of the century.

Em­peror pen­guins breed and raise their young al­most solely on sea ice – changes in ice cover im­pact the en­tire Antarc­tic food web through key or­gan­isms, such as krill.

The US sci­en­tists mod­elled pop­u­la­tion trends for the colonies, tak­ing ac­count of sea-ice con­di­tions pro­jected by a range of cli­mate mod­els and found that al­though year-to-year colony pop­u­la­tions would mostly grow un­til 2040, all colonies will be­gin to dwin­dle by 2080.

Land­care Re­search ecol­o­gist Phil Lyver lead a team which re­leased a study in 2010 pre­dict­ing about half of Em­peror pen­guin colonies – 40 per cent of the breed­ing pop­u­la­tion – north of 70 de­grees South would de­crease or dis­ap­pear by about 2050 as aver­age tro­po­sphere tem­per­a­tures reach 2 de­grees Cel­sius above prein­dus­trial lev­els.

Lyver said the species was a ‘‘bell­wether’’ that sounded an eco­log­i­cal alarm.

The re­search has im­pli­ca­tions for New Zealand’s man­age­ment of the Ross Sea de­pen­dency, which he said was a haven for many species forced out of other parts of Antarc­tica.

‘‘It’s one of the last bas­tions, so New Zealan­ders re­ally need to look hard at mak­ing the Ross Sea a ma­rine pro­tected area. We want to show on a global stage that we are re­spon­si­ble man­agers of the en­vi­ron­ment.’’

Lyver said he agreed with the re­searchers who ad­vised the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture to up­grade the species’ con­ser­va­tion sta­tus from not threat­ened to vul­ner­a­ble or en­dan­gered.

Tough ex­is­tence: Em­peror pen­guins are threat­ened by cli­mate change

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