Researchers: Climate change decimating South American baby penguins

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 29, 2014 17:57 EDT
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Three Magellanic penguin chicks at the San Francisco Zoo in San Francisco, California, on Aug. 10, 2010 [AFP]
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Climate change means more extreme weather and baby penguins are paying the price with their lives, said a pair of long-term studies out Wednesday.

Soaking rainstorms and unusual heat have killed vast numbers of young Magellanic penguins at the bottom tip of South America, said one of the papers published in the journal PLOS ONE.

“It’s the first long-term study to show climate change having a major impact on chick survival and reproductive success,” said lead author Dee Boersma, a biology professor at the University of Washington.

Over the course of 27 years, an average of 65 percent of chicks died annually, said the study.

About 40 percent starved, while climate change was blamed for killing an average of seven percent of chicks per year.

However, climate change killed 43 and 50 percent of all new chicks in two extreme weather years.

The chicks were particularly susceptible when they were nine to 23 days old and too large to be protected by their parents but too young to have grown waterproof feathers.

“We’re going to see years where almost no chicks survive if climate change makes storms bigger and more frequent during vulnerable times of the breeding season as climatologists predict,” said co-author Ginger Rebstock.

The study was carried out in Punta Tombo, Argentina, at the world’s largest breeding area for Magellanic penguins.

The other study in PLOS ONE focused on Adelie penguins in Antarctica.

These penguins were tracked over the course of 13 years to see how the breaking off of giant icebergs impacted their survival.

In 2001, two massive icebergs encroached on the penguins’ foraging grounds in the Ross Sea.

The icebergs “dramatically” cut back on the penguins’ access to prey, but many were still able to raise a chick, said lead researcher Amelie Lescroel from the French National Center for Scientific Research.

However, she added, if extreme events like this happen more often, “it will become very hard to predict how penguin populations will buffer future sea ice changes.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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