The Antarctic Peninsula, the northern most region of Antarctica, is experiencing some of the most dramatic changes due to climate warming, including population declines of some penguin species.
This is not the first time that region has felt the effects of climate warming. How did penguins respond to the melting of snow and ice cover 11,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age?
Today, scientists have traced the genetics of modern penguin populations back to their early ancestors from the last Ice Age to better understand how three Antarctic penguin species gentoo, Adlie, and chinstrap penguins fared in response to past climate change. New evidence shows that in contrast to population trends seen today, the penguin populations in the Antarctic Peninsula grew following the end of the last Ice Age. This new research led by scientists from the University of Southampton, Oxford University, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) was published June 12 in the journal Scientific Reports.
Gentoo, Adlie, and chinstrap penguins need land free of ice to nest and raise their young, as well as ice-free access to the ocean in order to be able to forage for food.
"We typically think of penguins as relying on ice, but this research shows that during the last Ice Age there was probably too much ice around Antarctica to support large populations," said lead author Gemma Clucas, from Ocean and Earth Sciences at the University of Southampton (U.K.).
So when the snow and ice began to melt following the end of the last Ice Age, new penguin nesting sites with access to the ocean became available allowing all three species' populations to grow and expand.
"However, despite current warming clearly opening up new opportunities for penguins, we should not assume that rapid warming caused by human activity is good for penguins as a whole," said Clucas.
In fact, today's warming has not been equally advantage
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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution