New Territory

The retreat of glaciers in Antarctica could prove to be a boon for Adélie penguins, scientists report in PLOS ONE. Melting ice and snow have expanded the animals’ habitat, allowing one of their colonies to flourish.

“The adage is that global climate change will identify both winners and losers,” the authors write. Emperor penguins, for example, will likely suffer habitat loss. But the disappearance of ice might actually help other animals.

The team studied Adélie penguins on Beaufort Island in the Ross Sea. To find out how the population had changed, the researchers counted nesting sites in aerial photographs taken from 1983 to 2010. They also estimated the amount of usable habitat at that colony by studying photos from 1958 to 2010.

Adélie penguin habitat on the southern part of Beaufort Island rose by 71 percent over the last five decades, the team reports. And the number of breeding pairs increased by 84 percent since 1983. The habitat expansion was due to both glacier retreat and melting of snow patches.

The penguins may have gotten a boost from the fishing industry as well. Fishers in the Ross Sea have been snapping up the Antarctic toothfish, which competes with Adélie penguins for food. Roberta Kwok | 5 April 2013

Source: LaRue, M.A. et al. 2013. Climate change winners: Receding ice fields facilitate colony expansion and altered dynamics in an Adélie penguin metapopulation. PLOS ONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0060568.

Image © Moritz Buchty |