Thursday, 17 October, 2019

Indian Ocean mystery as 90% of penguin 'super colony' disappears

The king penguin is the second-largest species of penguin Image The king penguin is the second-largest species of penguin
Patty Aguilar | 01 August, 2018, 14:17

Previous studies have shown that both are now attacking albatross chicks and adults, causing a decline of at least some populations - and perhaps they may also be impacting king penguins.

Although the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) now lists king penguins as of "least concern" on the Red List of Threatened Species, recent studies have indicated looming threats to the species.

Most concerning is researchers from the Chizé Center for Biological Studies (CNRS) say there are no clear reasons for the steep decline. The research said as much as 70% of king penguins would be forced to find new breeding grounds or cease to exist.

"It is completely unexpected, and particularly significant since this colony represented almost one third of the king penguins in the world", said lead author Henri Weimerskirch, an ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize, France, who first set eyes on the colony in 1982.

El Nino is the term widely used to describe the warming of sea surface temperature that occurs every few years, typically concentrated in the central-east equatorial Pacific.

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Migration is not an option because there are no other suitable islands within striking range. Other factors may be contributing to the decline of the Ile aux Cochons colony, including overcrowding.

And as food became scarce, competition may have grown fiercer among individuals, slowing population growth.

"The repercussions of lack of food are thus amplified and can trigger an unprecedented rapid and drastic drop in numbers".

But this so-called "density-dependent effect" can also be made worse by climate change, the study said.

Populations of most of 18 types of penguins are decreasing, according to a Red List run by conservation experts. But in the first comprehensive new count since then, researchers report in Antarctic Science that only about 200,000 king penguins now inhabit the island. Also, Avian cholera is now ravaging populations of seabirds on other islands in the Indian Ocean, like the albatross of Île Amsterdam and the penguins of Marion Island.

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