Species On The Move

As climate change impacts habitats around the world, species are on the move, trying to adapt — and survive.

About This Species

Adélie penguins live around the coast of Antarctica and can be identified by the white ring around their eyes. The Adélie is one of 17 living penguin species and one of just six living in Antarctica. Penguins have lived in the region for millions of years. As penguins go, the Adélie is medium sized, standing just over two feet tall.

Climate change Antarctica Adelie penguins range species

Climate change could claim a third of the Adélie penguin population by 2060. (Credit: Flickr user Peter via Creative Commons)

The Antarctic spring breeding season kicks off in October, and that's when Adélie penguins head to colonies around the coast of Antarctica. These colonies can range from a few dozen to a few thousand birds. In the colonies, the penguins line their nests with small stones, which help keep their eggs dry as the snow melts. These stones can be in high demand, and the thieving birds have been known to steal stones from their neighbors' nests. 

Male penguins are involved parents. They help take care of the young and the parents take turns sitting on a pair of eggs to keep them warm and protected. The adult penguins have a brood patch—a four-inch slit that exposes bare, blood-engorged skin—that allows them to incubate eggs at 86 degrees F, even in Antarctica.

Conservation Status

In 2012, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources downgraded the Adélie penguins' status from a species of "least concern" to "near threatened." In recent years, the uneven impacts of climate change around Antarctica have had similarly uneven impacts on the penguins; the colonies near the Ross Sea region are growing, while those around the West Antarctic peninsula are dwindling. Along the peninsula, some populations have already plummeted as much as 80 percent.

Though there has been a net increase in Adélie penguins, the expectation is that as global temperatures continue to rise, that's going to change—drastically.

The Adélie Penguin's Shrinking Range

By the end of the century, the Adélie penguins' range is expected to shrink significantly, according to a recent study funded by NASA and published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Climate change adelie penguin range shift antarctica

Source: Scientific Reports, NASA


Looking Forward

By 2060, nearly a third of current Adélie colonies may be in decline due to climate change, according to the Scientific Reports study. By the end of the century, 60 percent of the present population could be gone. The study relied on satellite data and global climate modeling projections.

Climate change adelie penguins range antarctica species

Adélie penguins can live 20 years. With climate change's accelerated pace in Antarctica, these chicks could see a lot of change in their lifetime. (Credit: Flickr user Dileep)

The report's authors found that penguins in some areas of Antarctica are currently faring better than others and in the future, colonies in certain areas could help prevent a total extinction. The area near the Ross Sea is one particular refuge. Though it is expected to see some warming, the scientists' projections indicate it will remain habitable to the penguins beyond 2099. 

In contrast, the area around the West Antarctic Peninsula is particularly vulnerable. There appears to be a connection between warmer ocean surface temperature and population declines among Adélie penguins, and this is expected to be exacerbated in the future.

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