Climate changes affect the penguins in a variety of ways. Penguins are highly adaptive birds and they respond to changes in the environment. As we know, penguins live in the Southern hemisphere. Penguins usually prefer to live near nutrient-rich, cold-water currents that provide excess amount of food. Different species of penguins thrive in varying climates ranging from Galápagos penguins on tropical islands at the equator to emperor penguins restricted to the pack ice and waters of Antarctica. Icy environment is also a major requirement of certain species of penguins for nesting and feeding purposes. Sea ice can provide shelter and food to many of the penguins by providing them with plenty of prey.
Adelie penguins are adapted to expanding glacial conditions as well as sea ice fluctuations. This resilience resulted in their successful survival in Antarctica for more than 45,000 years. But recent climatic changes in Antarctica are far more greater than the past and University of Delaware suggests that many colonies of penguins living in Antarctica are under threat. The major species of penguins living in Antarctica include Emperor penguins and Adelie penguins. These are the only two species that entirely inhabit Antarctica. They respond uniquely to the changing climatic conditions. During hot summers, these penguins nest on land (as they are flightless birds), but in the winter they migrate near the sea ice where they can find the abundant seafood.
After the research of more than 30 years, scientists are now able to describe the change in penguin colony population with varying climatic conditions. The effect of climatic change is observed in two ways. Whenever a climatic change occurs, it affects the penguin’ habitats and the available food sources. When the temperature of the seas rise, it results in reduction of the available penguin’s prey. Penguins adapt themselves for this change and modify their diets.
A scientist Cimino explains while talking about the Adelie penguins:
“Changes in [sea] ice and temperature can cause changes in the food, krill and fish.” In some areas, the fish populations have gone down a ton, so their major diet in those areas is krill. In other areas, these penguins eat more fish, which are a more nutritious food source.”
Now let’s see how the nesting sites of penguins are affected by the change in climate. Whenever the precipitating changes in local weather occur, the quality of nests of penguins is reduced noticeably. Puddles are created on the ground due to heavy rain or melting of ice. This causes the nesting sites to submerge in the puddles. Although the climate of Antarctica is very cold and dry and this rain event occurs very rarely, penguins still adapt themselves for such changes. This is very unpleasant for the penguins who lay their eggs on the ground. Eggs of penguins cannot survive in the pool of water. As we know that chicks of penguins lack the double insulation layer which makes the penguins waterproof. So these chicks cannot survive in liquid water, become wet and die due to lack of enough warmth.
What is global warming? How does it cause environmental and climatic change?
Global warming plays a very vital role in changing the climate.
It is defined as:
A gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, CFCs, and other pollutants.
With the passage of time, the temperature of the earth is rising. This overall increase in temperature is very dangerous for many species of the penguins because this rise in temperature is causing the melting of sea ice. Adelie penguins can only survive on the sea ice. They spend most of their time on the sea ice. So as a result of global warming, sea ice is disappearing which has posed serious threats to the lives of Adelie penguins.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
There are some secret places which are inhabited by the penguins when climatic conditions become too harsh for them to survive. These places act as silver lining for the penguins. Such places are called Climatic Refugia which prove as safe havens, make it easier for the penguins to survive and provide support during harsh climatic conditions. These areas act as safe refuge where the penguins could continue to thrive. When climate seems warm to the Adelie penguins, they find refuge in the Ross and Amundsen Seas. These seas act as refugia for the Adelie penguins.
Effect of climate on Adelie penguins.
Simply, Adelie penguins cannot live in warm environment. Moisture and humidity increase in the Antarctic environment because of warm air, this results in frequent snowstorms, making these areas unsuitable for Adelie penguins. The southern locations are also becoming less suitable for Adelie nesting because climate is getting warm day by day.
Effect of climatic change on emperor penguins.
Now I am going to discuss the effect of climatic change on emperor penguins. These are one of the species living in Antarctica and they need very thick sea ice in order to lay and hatch their eggs, as well as to look after their chicks. Why do emperor penguins need thick sea ice for hatching? Firstly, we should keep in mind that these are the largest species of penguins. They are bulky and heavy. The eggs of emperor penguins are also relatively bigger than the eggs of other species. The chicks need thick sea ice. In the presence of thick ice, penguins take care of their children from April to December. Due to climatic change, temperature is rising. In high temperature, ice melts too quickly and emperor penguins are left only with thin sea ice which breaks up too quickly and the chicks are swept into the sea before they can survive on their own. The number of breeding pairs of penguins has declined to a very great extent. Global warming has very adverse effects on these monster birds.
Effect of climatic change on other penguin species.
Climatic change also negatively impacts the survival of temperate penguin species. There is only one method to sustain the penguin colonies, that is to keep the average global temperature below 2°C. This is practically not possible and penguin population is facing the risk of extinction because of these climatic changes and global warming. Due to melting of ice, the poor penguins have no place to look after and hatch their chicks. Chicks are lost in the water before they become stable. Melting of ice also adversely affects the marine population.
- Pollution and its effects on climate.
As we know, that penguins can’t bear any kind of pollution. They make their nesting sites on land, so they are very vulnerable to changes in the air and land. On the other hand, they cannot survive in the polluted water because it is very hard for them to find their food in the polluted sea. Fish, krill and other marine animals cannot survive in the polluted water. This results in reduction of prey of the penguins. Toxins or pollutants released on land make their way to the coast via storm drains, sewage outfall pipes or as run off from land into our rivers. Penguins have dual habitats. In water, there is a chance that penguins may come in direct contact with water pollutants, for example oil spills decolorize the penguin feathers and they start looking very ugly. If a penguin mistakenly ingested oil droplets, its hormone level decreases and this oil may act as poison for them. Oil also reduces the waterproofing ability of penguins.
Land pollution can cause various diseases to the penguins.
Penguins are highly susceptible to diseases. The average life expectancy of penguins is probably 15 to 20 years. And this is greatly reduced due to the outburst of some disease. Mainly pathogenic bacteria become the cause of diseases. Certain viral and infectious diseases are also observed in the penguins living on dirty places. Claire Christian, member of an environmental NGO called Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, says:
“Climate change may result in a number of stressors that make it more difficult for penguin populations to deal with disease,”. Water and land pollution collectively can create many problems for the penguins. Water pollution causes the decrease in healthy seafood. As a result, penguins become weaker and their ability to fight against diseases is reduced. So they become highly vulnerable to attacks of bacteria and this might leave the penguins less able to fight off illness.
A survey was conducted by the Wray Girmaldi and her team to study the effects of climatic change on penguins. They detected the presence of West Nile Virus and Avian Pox Virus infections among the species.
Now I am going to conclude my article. Birds are very sensitive to the creation of nature. They cannot survive in harsh and varying climatic conditions. Although they try their best to adapt themselves in changing climates but this is not possible every time, so they must be treated with care.