Shrinking glaciers make Adélie penguins thrive, at least that is what BMC Evolutionary Biology research suggests. According to the research, at the end of the last ice age, around 14,000-17,000 years ago, there was a tremendous spurt in penguin numbers as the glaciers of East Antarctica subsided, despite penguins being cold-loving creatures. The findings have opened up the possibility that there might be another increase in penguin numbers because of the current climate change.

Approximately 14,000 years ago, there was a 135-fold increase in Adélie penguin numbers as retreating glaciers exposed additional breeding grounds, highlights the BMC Evolutionary Biology research.

University of Tasmania’s lead study author, Jane Younger said, "Shrinking glaciers appear to have been a key driver of population change over millennia for Adelie penguins in East Antarctica."

This population explosion indicates that the current climate conditions are much more favourable than it was during the end of the last ice age. The past will help in analysing how the penguins respond in the future. According to environmentalists, the current environmental change will have effects for thousands of years.

"We need to consider millennial-scale trends alongside contemporary data to forecast species' abundance and distribution changes under future climate change scenarios," says Jane.

Another study of penguins from Scotia Arc further supported the fact that it was because of glacier retreat and not changing sea conditions that caused the surge in penguin population after the last ice age, reports The Conversation.

However, Adélie penguins are very sensitive to sea ice changes, extent of glaciations and timing of sea ice retreat. This is because these penguins, unlike their cousins – emperor penguins, form their breeding colonies on land free of ice along the Antarctic coastline and feed in the pack ice zone during their breeding season.

Currently, about 30% of global Adélie population resides in East Antarctica with 1.14 million breeding pairs. An increase in sea ice can spell doom for these penguins as they will take longer to navigate from their breeding to feeding grounds.

"Adequate food supplies must be available to sustain an expanding population of Adelie penguins," explains Younger.

Watch Impacts of climate change on Emperor Penguins by University of Tasmania…

Source: YouTube/ IMAS - Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies

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