Emperor Penguins Struggling To Adapt To Climate Change: Should They Be Protected Under Endangered Species Act?

9 June 2017, 12:08 pm EDT By Andrew Norman Tech Times
A study revealed that the survival of Emperor penguins will be at risk by 2100 if the Antarctic sea ice keeps melting at the current rate. The researchers asked that the Emperor penguins be listed under the Endangered Species Act.  ( Handout by SeaWorld San Diego | Getty Images )

A new study suggests that if the Antarctic sea ice keeps melting at the current pace, Emperor penguin populations will be at risk of extinction by the end of this century.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution conducted the research and found that Emperor penguin populations survived so far by changing their feeding and breeding grounds. However, these unique penguin species will not survive for long if they run out of new locations to migrate to.

Researchers associated with this study stated that dispersal of global Emperor penguin populations may enable the species' sustenance for a limited period.

Emperor Penguins Populations Struggle To Adapt To Climate Change

The researchers shared that if the Antarctic sea ice keeps on melting at the current rate by 2100, the remaining 54 colonies of Emperor penguins will experience a rapid decline. Due to this alarming discovery, the scientists assert that authorities list the Emperor penguins as an endangered species.

WHOI biologist and the study' lead author Stephanie Jenouvrier asserted that sea ice is an integral aspect of the Emperor penguins' lives.

She noted that the study' results indicated that Emperor penguin populaitions' survival prospects "look grim at the end of 2100." This researchers project a 40 percent to 99 percent global decline in the Emperor penguins' population over three generations.

Based on their findings, the researchers assert that the Emperor penguins deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Climate Change Affects Emperor Penguins: Will Dispersal Helps Them Survive?

For a long time, the researchers were not aware of the Emperor penguins' ability to migrate to survive. It was only in the past few years that scientists became aware of this mechanism when the penguins were forced to migrate in search of optimal habitats.

The relationship of Antarctic sea ice and Emperor penguins is delicate one. Too much sea ice becomes a hurdle in path of the adult penguins on a hunting trip, whereas too little sea ice indicates the loss of prey and breeding ground.

To understand if migration can assist the Emperor penguins survive, Jenouvrier collaborated with some mathematicians to come up with "sophisticated demographic model of penguin colonies." This model was based on the information that was collected at Pointe Géologie.

The penguin demographic model tracks and monitors the Emperor penguins' population connectivity as they move from one location to another, which offers them better sea conditions.

The researchers noted that the model was akin to adding a physical road between the areas the penguins resided in and they then observed what transpired when the creatures traversed the routes.

The scientists deployed several model inputs such as the creatures' migration rate, behavior, and dispersal distance to ascertain the results. The model also took into account "end-of-century sea ice forecasts" given by climate projection models, which forecast each penguin colony's fate.

Should The Emperor Penguins Be Protected Under Endangered Species Act?

After thorough observation and research the team concluded that dispersal will only help the Emperor penguins for a time, but the rate at which the Antarctic sea ice was melting would make their survival tricky.

"Given this outlook, we argue that the Emperor penguin is deserving of protection under the Endangered Species Act," Jenouvrier asserted.

The study's findings were published in the journal Biological Conservation, on Tuesday, June 6.

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