As much as 60 percent of Adélie penguin colonies could be in decline by 2099, according to a new paper published in Scientific Reports this week.
Adélie penguin populations are currently stable or increasing in areas of Antarctica where the climate itself is stable. But in the West Antarctic Peninsula where the continent is rapidly warming, the colonies are on the decline. The paper's researchers looked at these correlating trends and brought together satellite data and global climate model projections to explore how a shifting climate may impact the penguin species.
They estimate that 30 percent of Adélie penguin colonies will be in decline by mid-century, and that will increase to an estimated 60 percent by the end of the century.
"It is only in recent decades that we know Adélie penguins population declines are associated with warming, which suggests that many regions of Antarctica have warmed too much and that further warming is no longer positive for the species," the paper's lead author Megan Cimino told PhysOrg.
There is a silver lining in this worrying news. The researchers state:
However, climate model projections suggest refugia may exist in continental Antarctica beyond 2099, buffering species-wide declines. Climate change impacts on penguins in the Antarctic will likely be highly site specific based on regional climate trends, and a southward contraction in the range of Adélie penguins is likely over the next century.