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

Feb 28

A coalition of international environmental organisations is launching a proposal for the world’s largest nature reserve in the seas around the Antarctic.

Photo of small icebergs in Esperanza Bay, Antarctica

The Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA) has called for the protection of 3.6 million square kilometres of ocean, which would include a large proportion of the Ross Sea and create a reserve comparable in size to Australia.

The reserve would be protected from fishing and development, and would form part of a network of 19 protected areas in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, helping to preserve the region’s unique wildlife.

Emperor penguin profile

Emperor penguin

Pristine environment

The oceans around Antarctica are some of the most pristine in the world, and are still relatively untouched by human activities. In particular, the Ross Sea remains the most intact marine ecosystem on the planet.

The waters around Antarctica are home to almost 10,000 species, many of them found nowhere else. The Ross Sea still retains large populations of all its top predators, and supports many of Antarctica’s most charismatic species, including emperor penguins, Antarctic minke whales, Weddell seals and Antarctic petrels.

However, Antarctica’s unique environment faces a range of threats, including overfishing and the effects of climate change.

Photo of a Weddell seal pup close up

Weddell seal pup

Broader approach needed

Both New Zealand and the United States have already proposed reserves for the Ross Sea. However, the AOA claim that a much larger protected area is needed.

The Ross Sea is one of the most amazing and relatively untouched marine environments on Earth,” said Chuck Fox of the AOA. “While there are two proposals on the table to protect some of it, our report shows that we need a much broader and ecosystems-focused approach if we are to ensure this environment remains healthy and stable.”

Photo of a large group of Antarctic krill swimming under ice

Antarctic krill, a vital component of the Antarctic marine food chain

The Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which was established in 1982 to conserve the marine life of the Antarctic, has agreed to create a network of marine protected areas around Antarctica. However, the AOA say that public awareness and attention are needed during this process to help achieve more than just the minimum level of protection.

Now is the time to protect this amazing environment but we’ll need the global public involved to make that happen,” said AOA Campaign Director Steve Campbell.

Find out more about the proposed marine reserve at the Antarctic Ocean Alliance.

Read more about the Antarctic on ARKive’s Antarctic eco-region pages.

View photos and videos of species from the Antarctic on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 9

Unique biological abilities captured the heart of Rebecca Goatman last week, will this week’s ARKive team member favour evolutionary aptitude over adorableness?

Helen Roddis – ARKive species text author

Favourite species: Emperor penguin

Why? I’ve had an obsession with penguins since I was little – at one point I could count more than 30 items of penguin-related paraphernalia in my room as I was growing up! My admiration for the penguin stems from the sheer amount of grit and determination it demonstrates – this steely bird breeds during the Antarctic’s harsh winter, when temperatures drop as low as -60°C and wind speeds reach up to 200 kilometres per hour. The male penguin is responsible for the incubation of the egg while the female feeds at sea, and so to survive the Antarctic’s extreme conditions, thousands of males will huddle together for protection against the cold. Amazingly, penguins in these huge formations are able to coordinate their movements to give all members of the huddle a chance to warm up!

Favourite image: 

Emperor penguin image

Adult and chick emperor penguins sleeping

The emperor penguin is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List. The large population size and wide range, it is not considered under threat. Global warming poses a future threat due to the reduction of sea ice, an important breeding ground for the emperor penguin. Increasing tourism and the disturbance it causes could also have a negative effect on this highly unique bird species.

See more emperor penguin photos and videos.

Get involved

 

What’s your favourite species? Spread the love for species this Valentine’s Day by tweeting about your favourite awesome animal or peculiar plant using the #LoveSpecies hashtag!

 

Dec 24

Ever wished you could disappear? Many species of the Arctic and Antarctic depend on camouflage for survival in their extreme ecosystems. Being a master of disguise can enable a species to hide from predators as well as catch prey itself. Some covert critters even change their coloration throughout the colder winter months to make them indistinguishable in the snow.

We searched through ARKive to uncover our favourite sub-zero specialists…

Snowy owl

Snowy owl photo

The snowy owl unusually hunts throughout the day, making its white plumage invaluable for sneaking up on and catching prey.

Polar bear

Polar bear image

The earth’s largest living carnivore, the polar bear masks its black skin with its thick, white fur which also provides insulation against the freezing Arctic weather.

Southern fulmar

Southern fulmar image

One of the most abundant birds in the Antarctic region, the bill of the southern fulmar is conspicuous in comparison with the rest of its uniformly grey-white plumage.

Ptarmigan

Ptarmigan image

The ptarmigan is the only bird in Britain to completely change the colour of its plumage during winter from grey-brown to white with chameleon-like skill. This species also has feathered feet, enabling it to walk on soft snow with ease.

Snow petrel

Snow petrel image

The snow petrel’s scientific name, nivea, means snowy in Latin. This species breeds exclusively in the Antarctic and feeds further south than any other bird alongside the South polar skua (Catharacta maccormick).

Arctic fox

Arctic fox image

Another colour changing species, the pristine white coat of the Arctic fox changes during the summer to brown on the upper parts and grey-white underneath. This species can survive temperatures as low as -50 degrees due to the insulation provided by its pelage.

Under no disguise

Muskox image

Camouflage is unnecessary for species such as the muskox. This formidable bovid has many other adaptations such as a thick, layered coat, broad horns and short stocky legs making it one of the most dangerous prey for predators such as wolves and bears.

Find out more about these snowy species and their habitats on ARKive’s Antarctic and Arctic ecoregion pages.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Species Text Author Intern

Dec 14

On December 14th 1911, humans set foot on the South Pole for the first time. Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his team reached their goal, just 5 weeks before a British party, led by Robert Falcon Scott. To celebrate this achievement, we thought we would explore the awe inspiring Antarctic, and the creatures found in this icy land.

Winter wonderland

Photo of Antarctic landscape

Amundsen and his team would have had to travel across the worlds coldest continent, the Antarctic, which is larger then Europe in size. Its astounding vastness would have made journeying across this freezing landscape perilous.

Iconic penguins

Photo of emperor penguins

The emperor penguin is a truly Antarctic species, breeding on the continent. They reproduce during the harsh winter, with temperatures dropping as low as minus 60 degrees Celsius! After sucessfully mating, the female lays a single egg which is then transferred to the male’s feet to be kept warm. The females then leave until spring, leaving the males to incubate the eggs in the complete darkness of the Antarctic winter. In order to survive, the males huddle together for warmth, with up to 5,000 penguins forming one huddle in large colonies. These persistent penguins really are made for endurance!

Antarctic invertebrates

Antartic krill photo

As one of the most abundant organisms in the Antarctic waters, Antarctic krill plays a key role in the food chain as the main prey for a wide variety of predators. These crucial species are estimated to have a population with a total mass of between 100 and 500 million tonnes! However, in recent years their abundance has seriously declined due to over-fishing and increasing temperatures from climate change. A decline in such a keystone species could have severe knock on effects on some of its many predator species.

Sea ice seals

Photo of Wedell seal with pup

The Weddell seal is the most southerly breeding of all mammals, and is an ice habitat specialist, breeding and giving birth on the sea ice in spring. The female will stay with the pup for the first few weeks, until it is weaned at around seven weeks old, after which it is left to fend for itself. This seal species is an accomplished diver, being able to reach depths of up to 600 metres!

Amorous albatrosses

Photo of wandering albatross pair displaying

The majestic wandering albatross breeds on sub-Antarctic Islands such as South Georgia. This impressive species has the largest wingspan of any bird, reaching up to a huge 3.5 metres, and spends the majority of its life in flight. They are long-lived birds, reaching sexual maturity at 9-11 years, and will pair for life! Now that’s romance.

Accomplished hunters

Photo of orca breaching

The Southern Ocean around Antarctica is also home to many species of whale, including the incredible orca, or aptly named killer whale. It is the only species of cetacean to routinely hunt marine mammals, including seals, sea lions and dolphins. An intelligent predator, the orca employs a range of hunting techniques, often using coordinated attacks and other group hunting techniques, such as famously creating waves to wash prey off sea ice.

Explore more of this icy continent with our Antarctic eco-region pages, and tell us what your favourite Antarctic species is.

Rebecca Taylor, ARKive Media Researcher

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