Wednesday, June 20th 2012 - 06:49 UTC

Antarctica Chinstrap penguins suffering the effects of a warming climate

The population of chinstrap penguins is feeling the heat, with more than one-third of a breeding colony lost in the past 20 years, new research finds.

A third of breeding colonies lost in two decades

A warming planet, which is causing sea ice in Antarctica (and elsewhere) to melt, may ultimately be to blame for the plummeting population, the researchers said. That's because the chinstraps' main food, shrimp-like creatures called krill, depend on algae that attaches to that ice.

“Actually, in the '90s it was thought that the climate change would favour the chinstrap penguin, because this species prefers sea waters without ice, unlike the Adélie penguin, which prefers the ice pack,” study researcher Andres Barbosa told LiveScience.

He added that at the time, chinstraps, named for the thin black facial line from cheek to cheek, seemed to increase in numbers, with some new colonies being established.

The sea-ice decline in the winter, however, has become so big that it is now impacting krill populations, said Barbosa, of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid.

Barbosa and his colleagues tallied chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica) in the Vapour Col colony of Deception Island, in the Antarctic's South Shetland Islands in 1991-92 and 2008-09. They photographed nests in 19 sub-colonies, mainly in December when chicks were hatching.

Results, which ended up including just 12 of the sub-colonies due to availability of data, showed the occupied nests had declined by 36% between 1991 and 2008.

Barbosa and colleagues ruled out research activity as the cause for the loss since both studied populations and those used as controls showed similar patterns of decline.

Tourism is also not a likely culprit. Deception Island, built on a volcano, is one of the most visited places in Antarctica; the 2007-08 year saw some 25.000 visitors, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). Meanwhile, the nearby chinstrap penguin colony of Bailey Head, which is usually visited by 2.000 to 3.500 people every season, showed a decline of about 50%.

Rather, a dip in the krill population may be to blame, an idea supported by the fact that Adélie penguin population (P. adeliae) in the region is also declining, while the Gentoo penguin population (P. papua), which has a more variable diet, is not.

The chinstrap, gentoo and Adélie penguins are the three pygoscelid species (in the Pygoscelis genus) that inhabit the Antarctic Peninsula, the region of the Antarctic continent where the effects of climate change are more evident, the researchers noted.

But Barbosa says the chinstraps aren't a lost cause.

“This is an example of how the human activity far from the poles can affect the life at thousands of kilometres far from our homes,” Barbosa told LiveScience. “Therefore, a more responsible use of the energy and the fossil fuels is necessary to preserve the planet and then the Antarctica”.

In addition, he said, to protect the organisms that call the Antarctic home, we need to reduce human impact by reducing over-fishing, tourism and even research activity.
 

9 comments Feed

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1 ExPat 1987 (#) Jun 20th, 2012 - 01:49 pm Report abuse
Very surprised not to see Marco/Mike Bingham blaming the Falkland Islands Government and Oil exploration in Falkland Islands on the decrease in Chinstrap Penguin numbers.
2 Truth_Telling_Troll (#) Jun 20th, 2012 - 04:57 pm Report abuse
Well, they do have a track record of exterminating species.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falkland_Islands_wolf

Whereas Argentina has never sent any species to extinction within its territory.
3 ExPat 1987 (#) Jun 20th, 2012 - 05:06 pm Report abuse
TTT, But you have exterminated the indigenous peoples.
4 Truth_Telling_Troll (#) Jun 20th, 2012 - 05:19 pm Report abuse
@3

Prove it.
5 ExPat 1987 (#) Jun 20th, 2012 - 06:09 pm Report abuse
Ok TTT

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conquest_of_the_Desert
6 Leiard (#) Jun 20th, 2012 - 08:13 pm Report abuse
TTT

Red-bellied gracile opossum, Its forest habitat has been destroyed, and it was last seen in 1962.
7 Ozgood (#) Jun 21st, 2012 - 03:06 am Report abuse
@Truth_Telling_Troll

There are two schools of thought on this
8 Truth_Telling_Troll (#) Jun 21st, 2012 - 05:35 pm Report abuse
@5

Where does that indicate that every single indigenous inhabitant was killed off? That is what extermination means, no specimens left.

The onus is on you to prove there is not ONE indigenous person left in the entirety of modern Argentina's territory.

My onus is to prove there is just one extant individual.

I like my odds.
9 British_Kirchnerist (#) Jun 21st, 2012 - 09:39 pm Report abuse
“Deception Island, built on a volcano, is one of the most visited places in Antarctica”

Is this anti-Argie subliminal messagging? =)

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