Adélie penguins are at risk of extinction by climate change

By Melanie Karniewich, Class of 2025

Figure 1: Adelie penguins come ashore on this icy Weddell Sea boach at Paulet Island, Antarctica.

Climate change is becoming more alarming at an increasing rate across the globe, affecting humanity and other life. Associate professor of ecology and evolution Heather Lynch and other researchers at Stony Brook University traveled to visit Adélie penguin colonies in Penguin Point, Devil Island, Vortex Island, and Cockburn Island. Comparing the population sizes with the severity of climate change in that area, they found that the surrounding Weddell Sea could be a crucial shelter for them during these times of climate change. Ecosystems are being vastly affected by changing temperatures, leaving the animals in unsafe circumstances and thus researchers are proposing the ice-free expansion of land. 

During the expedition, the group had only found one established breeding nest this far south in the Arctic, suggesting that there is a reproducing problem for the population. The researchers noted that population growth is slowing down due to the western side of the Arctic Peninsula warming up. However, researchers also found that the increased temperatures have facilitated increased growth of their food supply. Colobanthus quitensis and Deschampsia antarctica are two plants that these penguins eat, and they only grow in temperatures of 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher. These plants are not having an issue of growing throughout the land due to the comfortable temperatures, yet the population growth is slowing down for the penguins. The nearby Weddell Sea is not as profoundly affected by the climate change, keeping the biodiversity flourishing while the land environment dwindles. Seeing this stark difference in the dynamic of biodiversity growth between land and water, the researchers are suggesting ice-free area expansion for the safety of the animals, to increase availability of land, and to increase consistency of biodiversity. Since minimal screenings of the area and environment were done by the researchers, they suggest that further evaluation of the land and habitat be done. Further investigation into species that have adapted and those that have not will also determine what characteristics the penguins have that might help them adapt. 

Since this is only the start of the research being conducted and highlighted to the public, there needs to be more detailed evidence on the environment in the Arctic. If not studied soon, the future of the Adélie penguins could be at risk for extinction among other species and organisms on land. 

Works Cited:

[1] H. Lynch, et al., Islands in the ice: potential impacts of habitat transformation on Antarctic biodiversity. Global Change Biology 28, 1-16 (2022). Doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.16331

[2] Image retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Weddell_Sea_Beach_(52046252345).jpg

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