Friday, April 4, 2014

Adélie Penguins: Winners of Climate Change?

You may recognize the little guys above from the movie Happy Feet.  They were the feisty penguins with a Latin spice.  They are actually a specific type of penguin known as Pygoscelis adeliae or more commonly, the Adélie penguin.  These penguins inhabit the Antarctic coast, and in the movie, their home consists of nests made of rocks which is actually accurate.  In fact, in the video below, you can see what these nests look like.

Adorable, right?  All cuteness aside, from this video you can grasp the type of habitat that these penguins live in.  Adélie penguins need just the right amount of ice.  They use the ice for foraging, resting, molting, and migrating.  However, too much ice can result in energy-costing foraging trips and lower breeding success.  Their population success has been a recent topic of study with the rise in temperature in the Antarctic which can be seen in the graph below.

Average summer temperatures in degrees Celsius recorded at McMurdo Station, about 90 km south of Beaufort Island, Antarctic from 1958-2010 
Research suggests that the Adélie penguin population may actually be benefiting from this increased temperature.  A study conducted at Beaufort Island, Ross Sea, Antarctica (pictured below) showed just that.
Study area at Beaufort Island, Ross Sea, Antarctica. Left, the location of the Ross Sea; middle, the location of Beaufort Island, and right, the location of the main Adelie penguin colony
The results of this study showed that the habitat for the Adélie penguins in the Beaufort colony had actually increased by 71% since 1958.  This was attributed to the retreat of glaciers as well as the decrease in unsuitable snow patches.  It was these conditions that led to the expansion in the population as well as the increased immigration and decreased emigration in the area (which can be seen in the figures below).

Techniques in this study could be used to further survey the population distribution of these penguins in response to environmental factors.  In fact, in another study it was seen that plasticity of foraging response could be disrupted by extreme events such as sudden increases in sea ice concentrations.  
So are the Adélie penguins a winner in this temperature rise in the Antarctic?  I would say, from this data, it's quite possible.  However, the study only looked at the main colony of Adélie penguins, and have not done research on the other colonies present.  With further research, a more concrete answer could be given.

  1. Michelle A. LaRue, David G. Ainley, Matt Swanson, Katie M. Dugger, Phil O′B. Lyver, Kerry Barton, Grant Ballard. Climate Change Winners: Receding Ice Fields Facilitate Colony Expansion and Altered Dynamics in an Adélie Penguin MetapopulationPLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (4): e60568 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0060568
  2. Amélie Lescroël, Grant Ballard, David Grémillet, Matthieu Authier, David G. Ainley.Antarctic Climate Change: Extreme Events Disrupt Plastic Phenotypic Response in Adélie PenguinsPLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (1): e85291 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0085291

1 comment:

  1. Well at least somebody is benefitting from climate change! However, their success will probably be short lived if the ice continues to melt. I watched a documentary on penguins a few months ago. It talked about one species specifically suffering from climate change: Magellanic penguins. Increased storms and rain are causing floods, which are drowning a huge number of their chicks. Also, because the chicks don't have waterproof feathers, they are dying from hypothermia after heavy rains. It's pretty sad.