Guest essay by Eric Worrall
If we don’t immediately shut down global CO2 emissions, by the end of the century some Penguins might have to move to different islands – otherwise they’ll die!
As climate change worsens, king penguins will need to move — or they’ll die
‘I’m worried about the future of the species.’
If we don’t cut greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change, then by the end of the century, 70 percent of king penguins could face a tough decision: either find a new home or die, according to new research.
King penguins live on islands scattered throughout the Southern Ocean, the waters surrounding Antarctica. The birds can swim as far as 310 miles (500 kilometers) to feed on lanternfish, squids, and krill in a food belt circling the continent. But climate models show that this food belt will move closer and closer to the South Pole, forcing the penguins to swim farther to catch their meals. By 2100, the penguins are expected to migrate to other islands or as many as 70 percent of them could disappear, according to a study published today in Nature Climate Change.
“Wow,” says Michelle LaRue, a research ecologist at the University of Minnesota, who was not involved in the study. “That’s not something I would have expected.” Unlike their closest relatives, the emperor penguin, king penguins don’t live on sea ice. In fact, they only live on ice-free islands. So in a warming world, you’d expect penguins that don’t need ice to breed to fare just fine, LaRue tells The Verge. But today’s study shows that the cascading effects of climate change are incredibly complex and can affect species in a variety of ways.
The abstract of the study;
Climate-driven range shifts of the king penguin in a fragmented ecosystem
Robin Cristofari, Xiaoming Liu, Francesco Bonadonna, Yves Cherel, Pierre Pistorius, Yvon Le Maho, Virginie Raybaud, Nils Christian Stenseth, Céline Le Bohec & Emiliano Trucchi
Range shift is the primary short-term species response to rapid climate change, but it is often hampered by natural or anthropogenic habitat fragmentation. Different critical areas of a species’ niche may be exposed to heterogeneous environmental changes and modelling species response under such complex spatial and ecological scenarios presents well-known challenges. Here, we use a biophysical ecological niche model validated through population genomics and palaeodemography to reconstruct past range shifts and identify future vulnerable areas and potential refugia of the king penguin in the Southern Ocean. Integrating genomic and demographic data at the whole-species level with specific biophysical constraints, we present a refined framework for predicting the effect of climate change on species relying on spatially and ecologically distinct areas to complete their life cycle (for example, migratory animals, marine pelagic organisms and central-place foragers) and, in general, on species living in fragmented ecosystems.
Penguins swim hundreds, even thousands of miles throughout their lives. Even if global warming occurs as rapidly as alarmists fear, I somehow doubt a gradual migration which occurs over a period of 80 years would be a major stress factor.