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Penguins suit up

By Sarah, 7 February 2014 News

Written by Neha Karl

Adelie penguins in the Antarctic.

A huddle of Adelie penguins exploring the Antarctic.
Image: CSIRO

Life has never been easy for penguins, and changing weather patterns are creating more challenges for some colonies.

The coast of Argentina is home to the world’s largest breeding colony of Magellanic penguins.

Scientists from the University of Washington have found that downy chicks are struggling to cope with increasing storm activity and rainfall in the region.

Downy chicks haven’t yet developed waterproof feathers and are too big to snuggle under their parents for warmth. Without this protection, water can easily seep into their down – or immature feathers – during periods of heavy rainfall. The wet down makes chick very cold and sometimes leads to death.

Further south on Ross Island in the Antarctic, Adelie penguin survival depends on the form and amount of sea ice. Over recent years, sea ice in the Ross Sea has become less predictable with more ice in some years and less in others. An international team found that it is easier for Adelie penguins to forage when sea ice is low. When sea ice is high, penguins are restricted from accessing prime foraging areas. Starvation and exposure are real dangers for chicks as the adult penguins must leave the colony for longer foraging trips.

While coping with change is a challenge for some penguins, researchers from the University of Minnesota discovered that some Adelie penguin colonies may actually benefit. With increasing temperatures, glaciers melt and retreat – opening up new nesting sites for some populations.

Environmental change offers both challenges and opportunities for species, especially for those living in extreme climates. Scientific monitoring can help to ensure these seabirds continue to waddle on.

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