New evidence suggests that emperor penguins are not constricted to a single breeding ground, allowing them to move as their environment changes.
According to a new study that will be published in the journal Ecography, emperor penguins may be better able to adapt to the effects of climate change than previously believed. Researchers have historically worked under the belief that emperor penguins returned to their nesting grounds to breed, but satellite images have debunked this assumption. A team from the University of Minnesota found that over the course of three years, a group of penguins changed breeding grounds six times.
"Our research showing that colonies seem to appear and disappear throughout the years challenges behaviors we thought we understood about emperor penguins," said lead author Michelle LaRue at the IDEACITY conference on June 20. "If we assume that these birds come back to the same locations every year, without fail, these new colonies we see on satellite images wouldn't make any sense. These birds didn't just appear out of thin air-they had to have come from somewhere else. This suggests that emperor penguins move among colonies. That means we need to revisit how we interpret population changes and the causes of those changes."
The penguin colony featured in the documentary, March of the Penguins, has been studied for more than 60 years, and the recession of sea ice over recent decades has had researchers concerned about the colony losing its breeding ground.
"If we want to accurately conserve the species, we really need to know the basics," said LaRue." "We've just learned something unexpected, and we should rethink how we interpret colony fluctuations."
Score one for nature.
Source: The University of Minnesota