Antarctica in the News- The Penguins Are In Trouble!

Headlines today have picked up on a study suggesting that a third of Antarctica’s emperor penguins could be wiped out by 2100.

The emperor penguin, one of Antarctica's most iconic species. (Image http://www.emperor-penguin.com).

The emperor penguin, one of Antarctica’s most iconic species. (image http://www.emperor-penguin.com).

What’s the problem? A predicted loss of sea ice means a loss of krill, the main food source for emperor penguins. Young krill need sea ice to survive as they eat algae that lives in it.

Tasty tasty krill (image National Geographic)

Tasty tasty krill (image National Geographic).

I thought sea ice was increasing in Antarctica? That may well be the case for now, and the study does suggest that penguin numbers may actually increase for a while, but eventually a decline in sea ice will cause a  fall in penguin numbers much steeper than this increase. Can anything be done? The study’s authors suggest that putting in marine protection zones to prevent fishing in areas where penguins need to hunt for food may help, but they don’t expect that penguins will have much ability to adapt to changing conditions, unlike these clever climbing penguins.

Global number of breeding pairs of emperor penguins from 2009 to 2100. (Jenouvrier et al. 2014, Nature Climate Change)

Global number of breeding pairs of emperor penguins from 2009 to 2100. After a short spell of increase the population plummets. (Jenouvrier et al. 2014, Nature Climate Change)

You can read the full study here: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate2280.html
Sammie Buzzard

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