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Penguins & Climate Change

January 8, 2015

Comparing the evolutionary histories of Antarctica’s penguin species may predict how they’ll respond to climate change.



Frank S Todd Emperor penguin with chick flickr

Emperor penguins incubate their eggs on their feet atop Antarctic sea ice. (Frank S. Todd/Flickr)

A tale of two penguins. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Just two species of penguins breed exclusively in the coldest corner of the planet – Antarctica. Scientists comparing the evolutionary history of emperor and Adèlie penguins are trying to predict how they might respond to future climate change there. Griffith University evolutionary biologist David Lambert says emperor penguins have evolved physiological mechanisms to withstand the bitter cold while incubating eggs on the top of their feet.

DAVID LAMBERT (Griffith University):

Emperors are very much tied to the presence of ice, so if there were circumstances where there was no ice, that would be a major difficulty for reproduction of emperor penguins. Whereas Adèlie penguins, in contrast, nest on ice-free areas. So as the Antarctic coastline warms, Adèlie penguins are likely to increase in number.


The research appears in the journal GigaScience. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.