14 December 2011

Penguins' past may reveal how they will cope with climate change

Adelie penguins.
Photo credit: Mike Martoccia.
Some rights reserved.
ANTARCTICA - Scientists from New Zealand's University of Auckland and Italy's University of Pisa are in Antarctica to search for clues about Adelie penguins' evolutionary past, and what this shows about how they will respond to climate change.

The team will spend a month collecting samples from two penguin rookeries, digging through layers of accumulated bones, eggshells, feathers, nests, and guano to gather DNA from long-dead penguins.

Professor Carlo Baroni, professor of geomorphology at the University of Pisa, told the NZ Herald that penguins lived in the coldest environment on earth and if the temperature warmed, they couldn't migrate to a colder climate.

"If global warming increases and affects the Antarctic regions, penguins have no other place to go, so they must adapt or die," he said.

Auckland University's Yvette Wharton said, "As we are getting climate change occurring there is going to be quite a specific effect on [Adelie penguins'] potential ecological niche. We're squishing them."

She said they would learn of past climatic changes, how the colony sizes had changed, and how the penguins had evolved to meet these new conditions.

Antarctic study digs for clues to penguin past by James Borrowdale, 14 December 2011, NZ Herald

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