Photo: Wikipedia, CC
Penguins are an Indicator Species in the Region
A new study confirms that a warming planet won't only impact species of penguins that live and feed in icy habitats. "A 30-year field study of Adélie (ice-loving) and chinstrap (ice-avoiding) penguins shows that populations of both species in the West Antarctic Peninsula and Scotia Sea have declined by respective averages of 2.9 and 4.3 percent per year for at least the last 10 years. Some colonies have decreased by more than 50 percent." Most of this decline seems to be caused by the impact that ice loss has on krill, the penguin's main food source.
Photo: Wikipedia, CC
Although chinstrap penguins avoid feeding in icy habitats, sea ice provides the necessary environment for krill to reproduce. Increasing temperatures and reductions in sea ice have made conditions unfavorable to sustain ample populations of this food source. The authors suggest that fishing for krill and increased competition among other predators also have made them less available to penguins.
"Penguins are excellent indicators of changes to the biological and environmental health of the broader ecosystem because they are easily accessible while breeding on land, yet they depend entirely on food resources from the sea. In addition, unlike many other krill-eating top predators in the Antarctic, such as whales and fur seals, they were not hunted by humans," said Dr. Trivelpiece. "When we see steep declines in populations, as we have been documenting with both chinstrap and Adélie penguins, we know there's a much larger ecological problem." (source)
So penguins are actually the "canary in the coal mine" for the health of marine ecosystems in the region.
The situation is quite grave since the abundance of krill has decline by about 80% since the 1970s, and climate change and other environmental problems could further reduce their numbers. This isn't just about penguins; krill is at the base of the food chain for many species...
Via Science Daily
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