1 Tahrcountry Musings: Emperor Penguins facing uncertain future

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Emperor Penguins facing uncertain future

Mathematical modeling of Antarctic by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) has brought to light the grave danger posed to Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) by climate change. Emperor penguins are to Antarctica what the polar bear is to the Arctic and made famous by Hollywood. The species was immortalized in the 2005 film March of the Penguins.

The modeling was based on projections of sea ice coverage from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) last report. A population dynamics model describing the mating patterns and breeding success of emperor penguins was used in conjunction. The study also used data collected by French scientists working in Terre Adelie, from 1960s onwards. The results suggest that by the year 2100, emperor penguins in the region are likely to experience a reduction in their numbers by 95% or more. Emperor penguins are the only penguins that breed during the harsh Antarctic winters. Warming of sea has other implications. Sea ice plays a critical role in the Antarctic ecosystem. They act as a platform for penguins to breed and feed. It is also a grazing ground for krill, tiny crustaceans that thrive on algae on the underside of the ice. Krill is a food source for fish, seals, whales, and penguins. Net results could be catastrophic.

The study's lead author is Stephanie Jenouvrier. Hal Caswell is the co-author. The study appears in the latest issue of journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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