A team of scientists from the University of Washington (UW) believe that climate change is killing chicks from the world’s largest colony of Magellanic penguins. They suspect that ever-changing weather systems, such as powerful storms, are not just killing the young birds, but also their main sources of food.

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In the early stages of their life, penguin chicks don’t have waterproof feathers, so they have to be protected from rain or else they could die of hypothermia. Likewise in times of extreme heat, they can’t swim to cool themselves.

The research team believe that a series of storms and heat waves over the past 27 years, documented in Argentina under the direction of Dee Boersma, UW biology professor, with the support of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the UW, the Office of Turismo in Argentina’s Chubut Province, the Global Penguin Society and the La Regina family, prove that climate change is detrimental to the young penguins.

“It’s the first long-term study to show climate change having a major impact on chick survival and reproductive success,” said Boersma. Her team’s data revealed that over 27 years, an average of 65% of chicks died per year, with some 40% starving.

In the study, climate change, which was a relatively new cause of chick death, killed an average of 7 % of chicks per year. However, recently there were years when it was the most common cause of death, killing 43% of all chicks one year and 50% in another.

Starvation and weather will likely interact increasingly as climate changes. “Starving chicks are more likely to die in a storm,” she added. “There may not be much we can do to mitigate climate change, but steps could be taken to make sure the Earth’s largest colony of Magellanic penguins have enough to eat by creating a marine protected reserve, with regulations on fishing, where penguins forage while raising small chicks.”

“We’re going to see years where almost no chicks survive if climate change makes storms bigger and more frequent during vulnerable times of the breeding season as climatologists predict.”

+ University of Washington

Via Science Daily

Images: Liam Quinn and venomgfx