As it is for many animals around the world, climate changes are also challenging king penguins that live around Antarctica. Most king penguins could be forced to move to new places to breed or risk being wiped out, if climate change is not addressed soon.
A new paper published Feb. 27, in Nature Climate Change finds that if the climate changes continue to develop at this rapid pace or even faster, it could carry devastating consequences for 1.6 million king penguins around Antarctica. Around 70% of king penguin breeding pairs would have to find another location to live by the end of the century.
This migration is challenging king penguins, and if they fail to relocate to other islands around Antarctica in time, they would be sentenced to imminent death.
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“If global warming continues at its current pace, the species may disappear,” Celine Le Bohec, co-author of the study and scientist from the University of Strasbourg, told Agence France Presse.
The vast majority of scientists strongly believe that the greenhouse gas emissions coming from humans are the main cause of human induced global warming, and thus climate changes. The polar ice caps are melting while the Arctic sea is disappearing. This process results in our global ocean getting warmer and it puts different animal species such as king penguins in dangerous situations.
What makes them different than other species of penguins is that king penguins don’t tend to live on ice-based islands. Even though the melting of the ice isn’t challenging king penguins directly, it does affect their food chain. They mostly eat fish, and if the climate change warms up the ocean, the fish will move south where the water is colder. King penguins will have to swim farther to reach the fish. Adult penguins would have to travel farther to reach food, and meanwhile their offspring would be alone longer, fasting, and possibly starving. That would prevent establishing a firm mating colony.
Nevertheless, it’s still not too late to help the king penguin population keep their homes, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the main reason behind human induced global warming.
“If no actions aiming at halting or controlling global warming, and the pace of the current human-induced changes — climate change, overfishing — stay the same, the species may disappear in the near future,” Le Bohec said.
If they colonize other islands located nearby, they could breed and hunt closer to the fish. That should help them adapt to the changes in their ecosystems.
“The main issue is that there is only a handful of islands in the Southern Ocean and not all of them are suitable to sustain large breeding colonies,” said Robin Cristofari, study author from the Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien in Strasbourg, France, in a statement.
Still, the pace of change needed to be taken could be a challenge too big for the king penguins, and could actually worsen the situation.