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Penguins Survived in Three Refugia during Ice Age

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A study of how changing climate has affected emperor penguins over the past 30,000 years has found that only three populations may have survived during the last ice age, and that the Ross Sea was likely the refuge for one of these populations.

Scientists from the universities of Tasmania, Southampton, Oxford and the Australian Antarctic Division examined the genetic diversity of modern and ancient emperor penguin populations in Antarctica to estimate how they had been changing over time.

Emperor penguins breed on sea-ice during the Antarctic winter, when temperatures regularly drop below –30°C. However, conditions were too harsh even for emperor penguins during the last ice age, with the study of genetic diversity finding that the population then was roughly seven times smaller than today and split into three refugial populations.

Emperor penguin numbers only increased over the past 12,000 years as sea-ice decreased around Antarctica throughout the Holocene warming period. This finding suggests that current sea-ice conditions may be optimal for emperor penguins.

The research, published in Global Change Biology, found that emperor penguin colonies spanning 8000 km of coastline are interbreeding, suggesting that they migrate much farther around Antarctica than previously thought. This has important implications for forecasting studies that have so...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.