A climate change study showed that while humans are busy trying to mitigate it, the emperor penguins in the Antarctica might disagree with that approach, as current sea ice levels in the Antarctic are just perfect for their population.
Researchers at the University of Southampton in the U.K. and other international universities set out to determine how climate change is affecting the emperor penguins living in the Antarctica. They found that over the last 300,000 years, only three populations may have survived the last ice age because it was too cold for them.
The emperor penguins were believed to have migrated to the Ross Sea where the temperature is more tolerable. This species is known for its adaptation to the icy environment that allow it to survive even at temperatures as low as -30 °C. But the researchers noticed a sudden drop in the population during the last ice age, suggesting that the temperature might have been too harsh for them. The number of emperor penguins back then was seven times smaller than the current population.
"Due to there being about twice as much sea ice during the last ice age, the penguins were unable to breed in more than a few locations around Antarctica. The distances from the open ocean, where the penguins feed, to the stable sea ice, where they breed, was probably too far. The three populations that did manage to survive may have done so by breeding near to polynyas - areas of ocean that are kept free of sea ice by wind and currents," Gemma Clucas, a Ph.D. student in ocean and earth science at the University of Southampton and study co-author, said in a university news release.
The researchers recommend that the Ross Sea must be preserved for the emperor penguins, especially because it has been a refuge for them during the times that the weather almost wiped out their population.
The study was published in the March 1 issue of Global Change Biology.