Climate change is not only threatening the living conditions of Emperor Penguins, it may be pushing them faster towards extinction, says a new study. Consequent to these findings, the team of researchers also proposed that the species be listed as ‘endangered’.
The Emperor Penguins are a species native to Antarctica and are known to be the tallest and heaviest of all penguin species. They are currently listed as ‘NT’ or Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. The polar bird has also been the subject of movies such as ‘Happy Feet’.
The new study projects the impact of various possible scenarios of climate change on the population of these penguins. It notes that too little, or too much ice cover are both conditions that are not suitable for their survival.
“Emperor penguins live in a delicate balance with their environment, there is a sea ice ‘Goldilocks’ zone’. If there is too little sea ice, chicks can drown when sea ice breaks up early; if there is too much sea ice, foraging trips become too long and more arduous, and the chicks may starve,” said Stephanie Jenouvrier, associate scientist, and seabird ecologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and one of the authors of this paper.
Using three Rs – resiliency, redundancy, and representation, the study projects the impact of three distinct greenhouse gas emissions scenarios on the status of Emperor Penguins. Resiliency refers to the ability of the population to survive through random disturbances, while redundancy considers resiliency among other factors. It is the potential to withstand catastrophic events. Adaptation to changing environment signifies representation. Using satellite records, the team found that the three Rs would decrease significantly in case the business-as-usual predictions of climate change play out.
“Given the species’ reliance upon sea ice for breeding, molting, and feeding, the most important threat for emperor penguins is climate change, which would lead to Antarctic Sea ice losses over this century. Trends in warming and consequential sea ice losses through the end of the century are clear and unidirectional under all projections from all climate models,” said Marika Holland, a climate scientist and one of the authors of the study.
The findings of this study highlight the significance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and also the speed of impact of climate change predictions on other species. The results of this study have been published in the Global Change Biology journal.
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