Emperor penguin 'marching to extinction by end of the century'

A A A

The Emperor penguin is marching towards extinction because the Antarctic sea ice on which it depends for survival is shrinking at a faster rate than the bird is able evolve if it is to avoid disaster, a study has found.

By the end of the century there could be just 400 breeding pairs of Emperor penguins left standing, a dramatic decline from the population about about 6,000 breeding pairs that existed in the 1960s, scientists estimated.

The latest assessment of the future size of the Emperor penguin population is based on the projected increase in global temperatures and subsequent loss of sea ice due to the changes in the Antarctic climate that are expected in the 21st Century, the study found.

Scientists based their pessimistic outlook on the long-term changes to the number of Emperor penguins in a colony living in a part of the Antarctic Peninsula called Terre Adelie, which has been surveyed regularly since 1962 and has experienced regional warming over the past 50 years.

The study by Stephanie Jenouvrier and Hal Caswell of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts concluded that there is at least a 36 per cent probability of “quasi extinction” of the Emperor penguin -- when the population declines by at least 95 per cent -- by the year 2100.

“To avoid extinction, Emperor penguins will have to adapt, migrate or change the timing of their growth stages,” the scientists report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“However, give the future projected increases in greenhouse gases and its effect on Antarctic climate, evolution or migration seem unlikely for such long-lived species at the remote southern end of the Earth,” they say.

Emperor penguins are probably unique among birds in that they hardly ever set foot on land. They breed, raise their young and feed from floating platforms of sea ice that forms each Antarctic winter.

Fluctuations in sea ice during the 1970s, and the effect that it has on the penguin population, were used as a model of what could happen on a larger scale during the next 100 years or so of climate change.

"The key to the analysis was deciding to focus not on average climate conditions, but on fluctuations that occasionally reduce the amount of available sea ice," said Dr Caswell, an expert in mathematical ecology.

"This analysis focuses on a single population, that at Terre Adelie, because of the excellent data available for it. But patterns of climate change and sea ice in the Antarctic are an area of intense research interest now. It remains to be seen how these changes will affect the entire species throughout Antarctica," Dr Caswell said.

Dr Jenouvrier said that if future climate change happens as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the penguin population ion Terre Adelie will probably decline dramatically in the coming decades.

"Unlike some other Antarctic bird species that have altered their life cycles, penguins don't catch on so quickly," Dr Jenouvrier said.

"They are long-lived organisms, so they adapt slowly. This is a problem because the climate is changing very fast," she said.

Emperor penguins are renown for the way the males are left to incubate the eggs on the sea ice through the long Antarctic winter while the females return to the sea to feed.

In August, at the end of the Antarctic winter, the females return to feed the newly-hatched young as the males go to fatten up -- they lose 40 per cent of their body weight during the winter months.

In the next few weeks, both parents take it in turns to feed until the chick is old enough to join other chicks that huddle together in groups to keep warm. In December, with the winter sea ice breaking up, the entire family march together to the open sea to feed.

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea