Jan 30
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In the News: Climate change is killing Argentina’s Magellanic penguin chicks

A 27-year study has shown that the negative effects of climate change are increasing the mortality rates of Magellanic penguin chicks in Argentina.

Magellanic penguin image

Caption: The Magellanic penguin is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List

The Earth’s changing climate has increased the frequency of extreme weather events around the world, such as droughts, storms, abnormally high or low temperatures and wildfires, which have led to the decline of many flora and fauna species, including the Magellanic penguin.

A recent study, published in the online journal PLOSone, followed 3,496 Magellanic penguin chicks in Punta Tombo, Argentina, between 1983 and 2010. In this area, there has been an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, which were found to be increasing the mortality rate of young Magellanic penguins. Professor Dee Boersma, who led the research, said, “It’s the first long-term study to show climate change having a major impact on chick survival and reproductive success.”

Magellanic penguin image

Caption: Extreme weather means adult Magellanic penguins are less able to hunt and therefore cannot feed their chicks

Extreme weather patterns can cause mortality, as the chicks can contract hypothermia. When Magellanic penguins are young their down is not waterproof, and if it gets wet an individual cannot control its body temperature. At times when temperatures are much higher than usual, some chicks may contract hyperthermia, which is also fatal. Indirectly, climate change is increasing chick mortality through starvation, as altered fish behaviour decreases hunting success for the adult penguins, which are then unable to feed their chicks.

It is estimated that the negative effects of global warming were responsible for around 7% of Magellanic penguin chick mortalities over the period of the study, while 40% were due to starvation. The authors of the report, Professors Dee Boersma and Ginger Rebstock said, “Climate variability in the form of increased rainfall and temperature extremes, however, has increased in the last 50 years and kills many chicks in some years.”

Caption: Starvation was the main cause of chick mortality in the study

The study also found that adults start laying their eggs three days later than previously recorded, which decreases the amount of time the young have to develop before the main storm season begins in November. Professor Ginger Rebstock said, “We’re going to see years where almost no chicks survive if climate change makes storms bigger and more frequent during vulnerable times of the breeding season, as climatologists predict.”

Magellanic penguin image

Magellanic penguins are laying their eggs three days later than previously recorded

As well as climate change, it is also thought that several other factors have contributed to the decline of the Magellanic penguin, including oil spills, water pollution, reduced prey availability from overfishing, being caught as bycatch and disturbance from tourists.

The study also suggests that the negative effects of climate change in the region were affecting other Argentinean species. Populations of other penguin species around the world, such as the Adélie penguin, are also in decline due to decreasing sea-ice and other issues relating to altered weather patterns.

The Adélie penguin is also suffering from the negative effects of climate change

Read more about this story BBC News – Climate change is ‘killing Argentina’s Magellanic penguin chicks’

Read the journal at PLOSone – Climate Change Increases Reproductive Failure in Magellanic Penguins

View photos and videos of the Magellanic penguin on ARKive

Read more about the penguin conservation project at the Zoological Society of London

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Jun 14
Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Seabirds' on Delicious Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Seabirds' on Digg Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Seabirds' on Facebook Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Seabirds' on reddit Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Seabirds' on StumbleUpon Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Seabirds' on Email Share 'ARKive’s Top Ten Seabirds' on Print Friendly

ARKive’s Top Ten Seabirds

As their name suggests, seabirds are birds which live in a marine environment. They come in all shapes and sizes, but all show a range of adaptations to their ocean-going lifestyle.

To celebrate World Oceans Day, which took place on 8th June, we thought we would take a closer look at some of the fascinating birds which make the oceans their home.

Colourful clowns

Photo of puffin pair greeting

Like many seabirds, the colourful puffin spends most of its life at sea, only returning to land once a year to breed. This much-loved, rather comical bird only develops the distinctive colours on its beak during the breeding season. It typically nests in large colonies on offshore islands or on inaccessible cliffs with grass slopes, excavating a burrow into which it lays a single egg.

Masters of the air

Photo of male great frigatebird displaying

With the largest wing area to body mass ratio of any bird, the great frigatebird is wonderfully adapted to an aerial lifestyle, and is able to soar almost effortlessly above the ocean for long periods. This species lacks waterproof plumage and doesn’t spend time on water, instead taking food from just above or on the surface of the sea, or pirating it from other birds in the air. The male great frigatebird has a distinctive appearance, with a conspicuous red pouch on the throat which is inflated like a balloon during courtship.

Supreme opportunists

Photo of herring gull yawning whilst standing on cliff edge

The quintessential ‘seagull’, the herring gull is one of the most familiar seabirds in the northern hemisphere. Like many gulls, this species is a supreme opportunist and scavenger, able to take advantage of almost any available food source. While at sea, herring gulls quickly gather at areas of high food abundance, including around boats. This versatile species can also live inland, and even commonly nests on buildings in cities.

Dramatic divers

Photo of gannet preening partner

With a wingspan of nearly two metres, the gannet is the largest seabird in the North Atlantic. This species is known for its breathtaking dives, in which it plunges into the ocean, often from considerable heights, before catching its fish prey underwater. The gannet shows a number of adaptations that allow it to survive hitting the water at speed, including nostrils which open inside the mouth to prevent water entering them, and air sacs in the face and chest to cushion the impact.

Ocean wanderers

Photo of wandering albatross display

The wandering albatross has the largest recorded wingspan of any living bird, reaching a massive 3.5 metres across. These impressive wings allow it to glide effortlessly across the ocean, and the wandering albatross spends most of its life in flight, often travelling huge distances around the southern oceans. This long-lived species does not start breeding until it reaches 9 to 11 years old, and pairs mate for life.

Terrific tubenoses

Photo of European storm-petrel feeding

A tiny seabird barely larger than a sparrow, the European storm-petrel is superbly adapted to life at sea. Like other storm-petrels, it belongs to a group of seabirds known as ‘tubenoses’ due to their conspicuous, tubular nasal passages, which give them an excellent sense of smell and help them to find patchily distributed prey at sea. Its small, hooked beak enables it to grasp its slippery prey, while a gland in the nose is used to expel excess salt from drinking seawater. The European storm-petrel mainly hunts on the wing, dipping its beak into the water while pattering its feet along the surface.

Cliff-nesting auks

Photo of guillemots at nest on rocky ledge with egg

The guillemot is a member of the auk family, a group of seabirds which have been described as the northern hemisphere equivalent of penguins. Unlike penguins, these birds can fly, as well as being excellent swimmers and divers. The guillemot nests on cliff ledges, and its eggs are conical in shape to prevent them rolling off. When the young guillemot leaves the nest it has to take a risky plunge into the sea below, accompanied by the adult male, who will then continue to care for it at sea.

Icons of the Antarctic

Photo of Adélie penguins diving off iceberg

Penguins are among the most popular of all seabirds. Found only in the southern hemisphere, these flightless birds are often associated with the Antarctic, although some species actually live as far north as the equator. With wings developed into flippers and legs set far back on the body, penguins are excellent swimmers, and their waterproof, scale-like feathers help to keep them warm and dry. A true Antarctic species, the Adélie penguin is found around the Antarctic continent year-round, and is capable of deep dives to find the krill and fish on which it feeds.

Dancing fools

Photo of blue-footed booby pair in courtship display

A large, comical-looking seabird, the blue-footed booby is instantly recognisable thanks to its bright blue feet. The name ‘booby’ comes from the Spanish word for ‘fool’ or ‘dunce’, referring to the clumsiness of these birds on land. The blue-footed booby usually nests in large colonies and mates for life, with pairs performing an elaborate courtship display which involves alternately lifting each blue foot, pointing the head and beak skywards and spreading the wings.

Super seaducks

Photo of male common eider swimming

Perhaps surprisingly, some duck species spend most of their lives at sea. The largest duck in the northern hemisphere, the common eider breeds on offshore islands, rocky coasts, or pools in tundra, but outside of the breeding season it is found in shallow marine habitats. Traditionally, the down feathers of this species have been used to fill pillows and quilts. The common eider dives underwater to catch crustaceans and molluscs, particularly mussels, which it swallows whole, crushing the shells in its gizzard.

 

Read more about World Oceans Day on the ARKive World Oceans Day blog, and have a go at our virtual scavenger hunt!

View more photos and videos of seabirds on ARKive.

Do you have a favourite seabird? Let us know!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

 

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