Are penguins adapting to climate change?

Katherine Wong
Katherine Wong

Article by, Katherine Wong

Although the climate change debate is full of uncertainties (Is the climate really changing? Are the changes caused by humans? What are the exact impacts? Is it worth spending money now to prevent it?), the effects of climate change on certain species of animals, such as polar bears and penguins, are well documented.

One of the widely accepted impacts of climate change is that there could be significant changes to the coverage of sea ice at both polar regions. This in turn could have a detrimental impact on animal species which rely solely on sea ice to feed and breed. However, recent research have shown that there are signs Emperor penguins are already adapting to climate change.

Emperor penguins breed and raise their young on sea ice at Antarctica and researchers have long believed from historic data that emperor penguins were philopatric, which means they would return to the same location to nest each year. The number of Emperor penguins recorded at some colonies, including at Pt Géologie where “March of the Penguins” was filmed, have been falling over the years. However, research using satellite images have been tracking the breeding patterns of Emperor penguins over three years and they show that the penguins are now no longer returning to the same location to breed. It appears that these penguins are becoming more aware of their environmental changes and that they are recognising previous geographical breeding area is no longer safe for mating.

This is great news for the future of Emperor penguins. Unfortunately, this is not the case for other species of penguins which face different problems. The chinsrap and Adélie penguins tolerated a warming climate quite well about 15,000 years ago, but they are now suffering from a dwindling food supply of krill.

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Editor’s Note:

 This article was first published in August 2014 edition of FreeSpeech Magazine. To check out the full edition, click here.