Amid all the doom and gloom about climate change, it’s refreshing to have some good news – at least it’s good news for one species of penguin which lives in Antarctica.
Scientists say a population of Adelie penguins has benefited significantly from climate change, strengthening the theory that global warming is not bad news for everyone.
The Adelie penguin is a medium-sized penguin with a distinctive white ring surrounding the eye. It lives in colonies along the Antarctic coast and needs a dry shoreline to breed and raise chicks.
Michelle La Rue from the Polar Geospatial Center at the University of Minnesota says that’s why a colony on Beaufort Island in the southern Ross Sea seems to benefiting from climate change.
As far as I’m aware this is, yeah, the first study to show that receding ice fields have had a positive impact for Adelie penguins. I’m not aware of any other studies that have shown that.
So does this mean climate change can be good news?
Um, I’m going to, I won’t say necessarily good news but I would say what this study shows is that, at least for me, it makes me question and kind of think a little bit more about is this happening elsewhere and we just don’t know.
From studying aerial and satellite photos dating back to the 1950s, Dr La Rue and her research team have concluded that population size varied with available habitat and both increased rapidly since the 1990s.
Well basically what’s happened is the glacier just to the north of the colony has receded and the colony has basically been able to take up a little bit of that space. And also the snow and ice that was present within the colony as well has gone away as well. So they’ve kind of been able to fill in and increase in their, there has been an increase in density as well within that colony.
SIMON LAUDER: How strongly can you sheet this back to climate change?
The data that we put together – so it was weather data, satellite images, the population dynamics and the population estimates – we combined all those data and so that’s why we came to this conclusion.
However there are of course other things that could be contributing to this. For instance there’s a fishery in the area which has been taking the Antarctic tooth fish out of the Ross Sea. And so that potentially could have an impact on them as well because Adelie penguins eat the same thing as the tooth fish so if there are less tooth fish there are likely to be more prey for the Adelies as well and that was something that we weren’t able to address.
What effect is climate change having on Antarctic penguin populations elsewhere?
In general Emperor penguins are generally not doing as well with a lack of, loss of sea ice. Emperor penguins are expected to decrease in numbers.
But for instance the Gentoo penguin is expected to potentially do a little bit better because they are more of an open water species and so they can take advantage of no sea ice being around. So there is a little bit of both in Antarctica.