Climate change may shrink Adélie penguin range by end of century
Climate has influenced the distribution patterns of Adélie penguins across Antarctica for millions of years. The geologic record tells us that as glaciers expanded and covered Adélie breeding habitats with ice, penguins in the region abandoned their colonies. When the glaciers melted during warming periods, the Adélie penguins were able to return to their rocky breeding grounds.
Now, a NASA-funded study by University of Delaware scientists and colleagues at other institutions reports that this warming may no longer be beneficial for Adélie penguins. In a paper published June 29 in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers project that approximately 30 percent of current Adélie colonies may be in decline by 2060, and approximately 60 percent of the present population might be dwindling by 2099. They also found the penguins at more southerly sites in Antarctica may be less affected by climate change.
The study results suggest that changes in climate, particularly sustained periods of warmer than usual sea surface temperatures, are detrimental to Adélie penguins. While the specific mechanisms for this relationship remain unknown the study focuses attention on areas where climate change is likely to create a high frequency of unsuitable conditions during the 21st century.
"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," said the paper's lead author, Megan Cimino, who earned her doctoral degree at University of Delaware in May and is now a postdoctoral scholar at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.
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Image: Adélie Penguins via NSF.gov