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Emperor Penguin Count to Decline, but First It's Going to Go Up

Image: Emperor Penguin Count to Decline, but First It's Going to Go Up
Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) at Weddell Sea, Antarctica.

By    |   Tuesday, 01 Jul 2014 09:06 AM

Emperor penguin counts are projected to decline 19 percent across the globe in the coming 100 years, scientists predicted in a recent study, but first their numbers are going to increase. Go figure.

"For a while our model predicts that the global population size is actually going to increase but by the end of the century it’s going to have decreased significantly and it’s going to be declining quite rapidly," said Hal Caswell, the study's co-author and a biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts, according to Smithsonian magazine.

Researchers who participated in the study, which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change, say the penguin population is tied to the formation and disintegration of sea ice. The penguins' primary food source, krill, becomes harder to access when there's less sea ice.

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The scientists have been monitoring roughly 595,000 penguins grouped into 45 colonies through satellite imagery, keeping a close eye on migration patterns and population counts.

By combining that data with prediction models they built in regard to sea ice formation, they ran thousands of simulations to arrive at the scenario most likely to play out over the next century.

"Our models take into account both the effects of too much and too little sea ice in the colony area," explained co-author Stephanie Jenouvrier, also of WHOI.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists Emperor penguins as "near threatened," but some scientists are suggesting they be listed as "endangered" based on the recent predictions about their future.

Climate change is a potential culprit for the predicted decline, and Caswell stated that, "Climate change is this ongoing process. We can see that at some point in the future the effects are going to build up, become really negative, and start pushing the species toward extinction. Does that mean that it should be considered endangered because we can see that coming even though it hasn’t started yet—or not?"

Global temperatures have not risen in the past 17 years, according to reporting from NASA and other government bureaus. Antarctic sea ice is also currently at an all-time high since scientists began keeping track of it.

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Emperor penguin counts are projected to decline 19 percent across the globe in the coming 100 years, scientists predicted in a recent study, but first their numbers are going to increase. Go figure.
emperor, penguin, count, decline
387
2014-06-01
Tuesday, 01 Jul 2014 09:06 AM
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