Emperor Penguins Shifting their Nesting Location Due to Climate Change

Emperor Penguins do not return to the same location every year to nest, as per findings of a new study carried out by group of researchers led by University of Minnesota. Contrary to earlier research projects which termed penguins as philopatric, emperor penguins are shifting their nesting place in the Antarctic Peninsula.

Over a period of three years, the research team found six instances when the emperor penguins didn’t return to the same place for breeding. The research team noticed the shifting patterns with satellite images. With high resolution satellite images, researchers across the world can easily keep track of the population of emperor penguins in the region and along the coastline.

Lead author Michelle LaRue from the University of Minnesota presented the study findings at IDEACITY conference in Toronto on Friday. The research team included Gerald Kooyman from University of California San Diego, Peter Fretwell from British Antarctic Survey and Heather J. Lynch from Stony Brook University.

LaRue added, "If we want to accurately conserve the species, we really need to know the basics. We've just learned something unexpected, and we should rethink how we interpret colony fluctuations. The current research means we need to revisit how we interpret population changes and the causes of those changes. "

Researchers from different universities across the world have been monitoring the population emperor penguins of Pointe Géologie colony. It was earlier suggested that the population of the flightless birds is facing threat due to climate change. In late 1970s, the population in the region declined by 50 percent within five years leading to fear among researchers that the population was declining fast.

The current study presents a contrary viewpoint and suggests that the population might be shifting between different colonies in the region. Penguins are smart enough to decide a different place each year, most probably, depending on the weather conditions.

The ice sheet in the Antarctic Peninsula is melting and researchers across the world have voiced their concerns on the climate change and its impact on then native species.

The study will be published in the upcoming edition of spatial ecology, macroecology and biogeography journal Ecography.