The majestic Emperor Penguins are in danger and if the climate changes continue their numbers can dramatically decline by the end of the century. Environmentalists are suggesting that the iconic animal deserves an endangered status due to climate change. By the end of this century 2/3 of the Emperor Penguin colonies would have declined by more than half according to the projections made by the researchers.
As a top predator in Antarctica, the main threat to emperor penguins’ survival comes from climate change which is melting the sea ice.
Emperor Penguins are intimately dependent on sea ice for their food and are highly sensitive to small variations in the sea ice concentration. The studies concluded includes analysis of the Emperor Penguin population across the globe and also incorporates current and projected future SIC declines.
The researchers came to the conclusion that there will be a 50% decline in the colonies of Emperor Penguins across the globe. The decline will be further accelerated by climate changes caused by global warming.
“The population is declining. Unless something changes to stop that, the population will go into extinction,” said Hal Caswell, senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and one of the authors.
The loss of sea ice is reducing the supply of krill, the tiny shrimp-like crustaceans that populate the Southern Ocean, and are the emperor penguins’ main food source. Young krill feed off of algae living in the sea ice. When the ice goes, so do the krill.
Changes in the ice around Antarctica may – in the short term – boost some of the emperor penguin populations, especially along the Ross Sea, the researchers said. Sea ice off the western coast of Antarctica has been on the increase, because of break-up of glaciers and winds.
But by 2100, all 45 known emperor penguin colonies of Antarctica will be on the decline because of loss of sea ice. Those located on the coasts of the eastern Weddell Sea and the western Indian Ocean will show the sharpest drops. Nine colonies are projected to be “quasi-extinct”, the researchers said.
Stephanie Jenouvrier, a biologist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in the US said, “If sea ice declines at the rates projected by the IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) climate models, and continues to influence Emperor penguins as it did in the second half of the 20th century in Terre Adelie, at least two-thirds of the colonies are projected to have declined by greater than 50 percent from their current size by 2100. None of the colonies, even the southern-most locations in the Ross Sea, will provide a viable refuge by the end of 21st century.”
The study appeared in the journal Nature Climate Change.