Emperor penguins flee unsteady ice after unprecedented failure to breed

first_imgEmperor penguins have recently abandoned this major breeding site in Antarctica because of unsteady sea ice. Email Christopher Walton By Erik StokstadApr. 24, 2019 , 7:00 PM Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Country Antarctica’s charismatic emperor penguins are thought to be particularly vulnerable to climate change, because warming waters are melting the sea ice where they live and breed. Now, the penguins have abandoned one of their biggest colonies after breeding pairs there failed to raise almost any new chicks in 3 years. Although the move cannot directly be attributed to climate change, researchers say it is an ominous sign of things to come for the largest of penguin species.Emperor penguins need sea ice that remains solid for most of the year while they find mates, breed, and raise their chicks. This requirement has become a critical problem for their second-largest colony, in Halley Bay in the Weddell Sea. Starting in 2015, sea ice there has been disrupted by powerful storms driven a particularly intense El Nino, the periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean that alters global weather patterns.To see how the colony was faring, remote sensing expert Peter Fretwell of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge analyzed high-resolution satellite imagery, which shows individual penguins and groups of the birds, from 2009 to 2018. Over that time, Fretwell estimated, the colony hosted between 14,000 and 25,000 adults and chicks. Since 2016, however, that population has dropped to nearly zero, Fretwell found—and he saw almost no chicks, an “unprecedented” period of reproductive failure for emperor penguins, he and co-author Phil Tranthan, a penguin ecologist with the British Antarctic Survey, report online in Antarctic Science.center_img Click to view the privacy policy. Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*) “Since we know little about the population trends of emperor penguins in most colonies, this is not good news,” says Dee Boersma, a penguin ecologist at the University of Washington in Seattle who was not involved in the research.The breeding failure might by itself not have a long-term impact on the species. “Since … some individuals [live] more than 30 years, these penguins should have other breeding opportunities,” Boersma says. Many of that colony’s penguins seem to be moving to the nearest adjacent colony, 55 kilometers away, which increased in population 10-fold as the population fell at Halley Bay.But the change is still worrying, researchers say, because this part of the Weddell Sea was thought to be relatively insulated from the dramatic changes to ice happening elsewhere around the continent. “I thought the Weddell Sea would be one of the last places we would see this,” Tranthan says. “The fact that these penguins are still vulnerable is a surprise.” Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe Emperor penguins flee unsteady ice after ‘unprecedented’ failure to breedlast_img

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