Mar 24

Although Adélie, chinstrap and gentoo penguins share their western Antarctic Peninsula breeding grounds, new research has discovered that rising temperatures have been affecting the breeding cycles of the three species in different ways.

Photo of Gentoo penguin colony with chicks

Gentoo penguin colony with chicks. Gentoo penguin populations are thought to have increased on the Antarctic Peninsula

Tracking penguin colonies

Professor Heather Lynch and her colleagues from Stony Brook University used a combination of fieldwork and satellite imagery to track colonies of the three penguin species and monitor how their breeding cycles were affected by the region’s warming temperatures.

Currently, the Antarctic is considered to be one of the world’s most rapidly warming regions and is one of the areas most impacted by global climate change.

Photo of Adelie penguins walking along the beach

Adelie penguins walking along the beach. Adelie populations have declined in the Antarctic, possibly due to warming temperatures in the region

Shifting breeding cycles

According to Lynch’s research, warmer temperatures cause a shift in the breeding cycle, causing the Peninsula’s penguin inhabitants to lay their eggs earlier. The researchers found that the resident gentoo penguin population is able to adapt more quickly to this change, with these birds able to bring their egg laying dates forward by almost twice as much as the Adélie or chinstrap penguins. 

Lynch believes this may allow the gentoo penguin to better compete for the best nesting space. In addition, the gentoo prefers areas with less sea ice, and has been able to migrate further south into the Antarctic as the sea ice shrinks as a result of the warming temperatures.

While gentoo penguins are year-round residents on the Antarctic Peninsula, Adélie and chinstrap penguins migrate to the Peninsula to breed. The researchers believe that the Adélie and chinstrap penguins are not aware of the local conditions in the region until they arrive, and have not been able to advance their breeding cycles as rapidly as the gentoo penguin.

Chinstrap and Adélie penguins also rely more heavily on sea ice due to their dependence on Antarctic krill, a species which lives under the sea ice for parts of its lifecycle, for food.

Photo of Gentoo penguin adult and chick

Gentoo penguin adult and chick

Changing penguin populations

As a result of changing conditions in the region, the number of gentoo penguins has been increasing on the Antarctic Peninsula, while populations of both Adélie and chinstrap penguins have noticeably dwindled in recent years.

Analyses carried out by Lynch and her team have confirmed that populations of the Adélie penguin have decreased at almost all of its breeding locations on the Antarctic Peninsula. The researchers have also helped to resolve previous contradictory studies that suggest that the chinstrap penguin may benefit from decreasing sea ice, and have instead shown that populations of this species are also decreasing in the region.

The work by Lynch and her team has been published as a series of papers online in Polar Biology, Ecology and Marine Ecology Progress Series (MEPS).

Photo of chinstrap penguins on beach

Chinstrap penguins on beach. Chinstrap populations have also suffered as a result of rising Antarctic temperatures

Read the Stony Brook University press release about Lynch’s work.

Find out more about the Adélie, chinstrap and gentoo penguins on ARKive.

For more information on the Antarctic visit ARKive’s Antarctic ecoregion page.

Interested in how climate change is affecting the world’s species? Find out more on ARKive’s climate change pages, or enter our creative climate change challenge!

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

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