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Study reveals climate change impact on Antarctic penguins


Antarctic penguins have been on the forefront of climate change, experiencing massive changes to their natural habitat as the world’s temperatures and human activity in the region have increased. Now, new research has revealed how penguins have dealt with more than a century of human impacts in Antarctica and why some species are winners or losers in this rapidly changing ecosystem.

Researchers from the University of Oxford, Louisiana State University, University of Rhode Island, University of California Santa Cruz, and the University of Saskatchewan have studied penguin populations with the goal of understanding how human interference in Antarctic ecosystems during the past century led to booms and busts in the availability of a key food source for penguins: Antarctic krill.

‘Antarctic krill is a shrimp-like crustacean that is a key food source for penguins, seals, and whales. When seal and whale populations dwindled due to historic over-harvesting, it is thought to have led to a surplus of krill during the early to mid-1900s. In more recent times, the combined effects of commercial krill fishing, anthropogenic climate change, and the recovery of seal and whale populations are thought to have drastically decreased the abundance of krill,’ says Michael Polito, co-lead author and assistant professor in Louisiana State University’s Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences. MORE

Header image: A Gentoo penguin leaps off an ice flow into Mikkelsen Harbor, Antarctic Peninsula. Credit: Kelton McMahon.

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