Research Shows Antarctic Conditions Perfect For Emperor Penguins Unlike In The Ice Age

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A king penguin (C), aged 11 months, is about to develop its adult plumage at Schoenbrunn Zoo in Vienna June 30, 2014. The young bird is Schoenbrunn's first king penguin bred since 2007. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader (AUSTRIA - Tags: ANIMALS)
A king penguin (C), aged 11 months, is about to develop its adult plumage at Schoenbrunn Zoo in Vienna June 30, 2014. The young bird is Schoenbrunn's first king penguin bred since 2007. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader (AUSTRIA - Tags: ANIMALS) REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

A research study by scientists from the universities of Oxford, Tasmania, Southampton and the Australian Antarctic Division showed that in the last Ice Age, approximately 26,500 to 19,000 years ago, might have been too cold to support itself. The research looked into the genetic analysis of the penguins for finding out how climate change affected the penguins. It was published in Global Change Biology, a journal for the promotion of understanding the interface between aspects of environmental conditions.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the researchers traced the emperor penguins, that survived the cold period back to three distinct groups, one of which could be found by the Ross Sea in Antarctica, southwest of New Zealand. The researchers believed that the Ross Sea could have served as a safe haven for the penguins during the Ice Age. It was also found that the penguins that stayed by the Ross Sea did not mix with other penguins and that gave them a unique genetic signature.

Researchers said that the three distinct groups of penguins broke into populations of refugees. The small populations of refugees became prominent after the world warmed up. 

Emperor penguins could thrive at -30 degrees Celsius. But it was reported that when the glacial sheets in the Earth were widespread, the population of the emperor penguins was seven times smaller than it was now. Researchers said that in the last Ice Age, increased sea ice could have made it hard for the penguins to search for food.

A postdoctoral student of ocean and earth science at the University of Southampton and a lead author of the study, Gemma Clucas, said that since there was twice as much ice in the last Ice Age, the penguins did not breed in more than a few places around Antarctica. She said that the distances from the open ocean to the sea ice was too far, and one of the reasons that the three populations of emperor penguins survived was because they were breeding near polynyas, which was basically the area of ocean free of sea ice due to winds and currents.

For breeding and feeding, the penguins need glacial sheets and an open ocean, respectively. Most of Antarctica, it was reported, had ice coverage which could be sufficient for the penguins for accessing food. 

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