Thursday, January 09, 2014

Adaptable Penguins Soldier On

Everyone loves emperor penguins. The large flightless birds who swim in the seas around Antarctica and breed on frozen sea ice had their curious ways popularised by films such as March of the Penguins. But concerns have been expressed about the future of the black and white birds, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifying them as "near threatened".

Unlike other animals, the penguin is not threatened by human encroachment into their harsh environment. Rather the fear is that the changeable weather conditions created by man-made climate change will disrupt their habitat and prevent them from successfully breeding. With the penguins typically breeding on sea ice, concerns have been expressed as to what they will do if climate change leads to the ice forming late or not at all.

However, scientists observing four particular penguin colonies have discovered that the little fellows are more resilient than expected.When their preferred sea ice is not available, the penguins move to alternative sites, somehow climbing up onto the almost impenetrable ice shelves closer to land. Although this puts them much further from the sea and atop strange and unscaleable cliffs, the penguins still manage to travel to and from their breeding sites to gather food for their young. It appears they slide or jump down the cliffs on the way to the sea and then make long detours around them when returning back to feed the little chicks.

It is unclear whether this penguin adaptability is unique to there four colonies, or if all emperor penguins are able to seek out new breeding sites when necessary. It is also unknown whether other penguin species are also as adaptable. But the plucky behaviour of these penguins suggests that the flightless birds will not be easily defeated by climate change.


An inuit panda production

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