Genetic study tracks history of Antarctica’s emperor penguin populations
FRISCO — A genetic study shows that emperor penguins may have just barely survived the last ice age, with a few scattered populations enduring centuries of bitter cold and ice.
The study covers about 30,000 years and suggests that only three populations survived, including a climate refuge of sorts in the Ross Sea, where emperors may have been able to breed around a relatively small area of open water. The emperor penguins in that region evolved to become genetically distinct from other populations, which may support arguments for creating a Ross Sea marine protected area. Continue reading “Climate: Too cold for penguins?”→
New study projects 50 percent decline by century’s end as sea ice habitat dwindles
FRISCO — Antarctica’s emperor penguins may be colonizing new territory right now, but the long-term outlook for the birds is grim, according to new research showing that changes in sea ice concentration will likely cause most colonies to decline by 50 percent by the end of the century.
Even the most remote reaches of Antarctica won’t be immune to the changes, the study leaders said, describing the results of their findings in a new article in the journal Nature Climate Change.
FRISCO — Just six months after scientists documented breeding emperor penguins moving from sea ice to ice-shelf habitat, a new study reinforces the idea that Antarctica’s iconic birds may be more mobile than thought. It’s too early to say for sure, but that could be good news in terms in terms of global warming, which is likely to change the face of the frozen continent in the decades ahead.
Recent satellite observations show birds adapting to changes in sea ice
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — Emperor penguins living at the edge of their range may be able to find new breeding grounds as their sea-ice breeding habitat dwindles in coming decades.
Recent satellite monitoring shows that the Antarctic birds moved from their traditional sea-ice breeding grounds during years when the thin layer of ice (sea ice) formed later than usual to the much thicker floating ice shelves that surround the continent.
In a new study, researchers show how the birds use sea ice to rest during long foraging periods. The life cycle of the emperor penguins takes place in an exquisite balance with the rhythms of ice formation. Courtship, egg laying and incubation occur during winter, followed by hatching, brooding and crèche formation during spring and early summer. Both parents tend the chicks until they fledge, generally in late spring and early summer (November and December), when the ice breaks up into floes that drift with the wind and currents.
Unlike other species, like Adelie penguins, emperor penguins spent much more time diving for food, and only used about 30 percent of their time at sea to take short breaks to rest on sea ice. The birds did not travel for long distances on the ice, or use it for other activities. The study also suggests that these short rest periods on sea ice may help the penguins avoid predators such as leopard seals. Continue reading “New study tracks emperor penguin sea ice habits”→
Overall population remained stable, but emperor penguins the region hit hard by thin sea ice and shifting icebergs
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Dramatic changes in Antarctic sea ice extent and thickness had different impacts on species that breed along the edge of the Ross Sea, with Weddell seals weathering the changes well, while emperor penguins suffered population losses.
SUMMIT COUNTY — British scientists in Antarctica have documented the disappearance of an emperor penguin colony from an island near the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. The area has warmed significantly in recent decades and the researchers said a decrease in seasonal sea ice duration may be a key factor in the loss of the colony on Emperor Island.
The changes in sea ice duration are driven by regional climate change around the Antarctic Peninsula, where air and sea temperatures have warmed significantly in recent decades. Taken all together, the signs are compelling that the disappearance of the emperor penguin colony can be traced to climate change impacts, said Dr. Phillip Trathan, head of the British Antarctic Survey’s conservation biology program.
“We looked at alternative hypotheses of why the colony may have disappeared but found little evidence to support these other suggestions,” Trathan said.