Warming Antarctic alters penguin breeding cycles

March 22nd, 2012 - 10:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 22 (IANS) Higher temperatures brought on by global warming are already affecting the breeding cycles of three penguin species sharing the Western Antarctic Peninsula.

Heather Lynch, assistant professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University, used a combination of field work and satellite imagery to track colonies of three penguin species — Adelie, chinstrap and gentoo.

The Adelie and chinstrap migrate to the peninsula to breed while the gentoo are year-round residents, the journals Polar Biology, Ecology and Marine Ecology Progress Series report.

The Antarctic is considered one of the world’s most rapidly warming regions.

Warmer temperatures move up the breeding cycle, causing the penguins to lay their eggs earlier, according to a Stony Brook statement.

The resident gentoo population is able to adapt more quickly and advance their “clutch initiation” by almost twice as much as the other species.

Lynch believes this may allow them to better compete for the best nesting space.

The Adelie and chinstrap are unaware of the local conditions until they arrive to breed and have not been able to advance their breeding cycles as rapidly.

In addition, the gentoo prefer areas with less sea ice, and have been able to migrate further south into the Antarctic as the sea ice shrinks.

The chinstrap and Adelie species rely more heavily on the abundance of Antarctic krill, which require sea ice for their lifecycle.

The result — the gentoo numbers are increasing while the other two species have noticeably dwindling populations on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Lynch will present these findings at the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University April 10-11.

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