The chicks of Emperor Penguins hatch in the harsh environment of Antarctica. Researchers have revealed the effects of climate change on their journey.
New research by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has revealed the previously unknown behaviours of juvenile Emperor penguins.
What happens when Emperor penguins leave their birth colony and make their first journey to sea?
The research revealed what happens when they first leave their birth colony and learn how to swim, dive and find food.
The research also highlights the connection between the juvenile diving behaviour of the Emperor penguins and the thermocline, a layer of the ocean where warmer surface waters meet cooler deep waters below and where their prey probably gather in groups.
Why is the lifecycle of Emperor penguins significant?
Emperor penguins are the largest penguin species and because their life cycles are so dependent on sea ice, they are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Their breeding cycles in March, which is autumn in Antarctica, because this is when the sea ice is thick enough to support the colony.
The females lay a single egg each then leave the colony to catch fish to fatten up so they can feed their chicks. The males stay behind to cradle their egg on the tops of their feet under their brooding pouch for warmth and protection. If there is too little sea ice in March, it can reduce the availability of breeding sites and prey. If there is too much sea ice, the hunting trips for adults will be longer, resulting in lower feeding rates for chicks.
Sara Labrousse, a postdoctoral investigator at WHOI and lead author of the paper, said: “This study provides insights into an important, but poorly understood, part of their life cycle, which is essential to being able to better predict the species’ response to future climate change.”