Global Warming: Taking Penguins by Storm

On January 29, 2014, Dee Boersma, a Biology professor at the University of Washington discovered that climate changes have a major effect on the number of Magellanic Penguins being  born each year due to an increase in intensity and frequency of storms.

Boersma’s studies were conducted from 1982 to 2010 in Punta Tombo, Argentina. Researchers collected data on individual penguins and nests along with data on weather. They recorded number of chicks both living and dead, as well as causes of death.

Two chicks with wet down fur try to keep warm with their parent in a burrow nest. Young chicks are susceptible to death if they are unable to dry out.

The results prove that rain and heat are causes of death in penguins in some years, but the leading causes of death  were starvation and predation. However, storms have increased and are predicted to continue to worsen in the next  years causing more penguin deaths. Chicks from about 9-23 days are more vulnerable to these storms because they  aren’t able to warm up and dry off quickly enough because of their fragile feathers.

Breeding has also been occurring later each year, causing researchers to believe that the fish the penguins consume have also  been migrating later in the year due to climate changes. Tragically, this could be a problem for the newborns since the  storms start to amplify in November and December.

Although climate change isn’t the leading cause of death, Rebstock, a colleague of Boersma, says that “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.” This could cause the Magellanic penguin to be the 19th species of penguins to go endangered.

There may not be much we can do to change the weather occurrences, but Boersma believes that steps can be taken to  make sure Earth’s largest colony of Magellanic penguins have enough to eat by creating a marine protected reserve,  with fishing regulations  where penguins forage while raising small chicks.

Source:

Boersma, Dee, and Ginger Rebstock. “Climate Change Increases Reproductive Failure in Magellanic Penguins.” PLOS ONE. 10.1371/journal.pone.0085602. (2014): n. page. Web. 30 Jan. 2014. <http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0085602>.

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