Baby Magellanic penguins dying from climate change

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A 28-year study of the penguins that hatch on the coast of Argentina shows that heavy rains and extreme heat have contributed to the deaths of hatchlings.

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CC BY-ND WikiCommons

Punta Tombo, Argentina

Over 200,000 pairs of Magellanic penguins come to the desert-like peninsula every fall to roost. While starvation and predators are the main causes of death for the baby penguins -- two-thirds of which annually do not survive -- a new study says climate change also plays a direct role in many deaths.

"We're going to see years where almost no chicks survive if climate change makes storms bigger and more frequent during vulnerable times of the breeding season as climatologists predict." Ginger Rebstock, study co-author

The study, published in the journal PLOS One on Jan. 29, uses data collected by the authors over 28 seasons, starting in 1983. Researchers found that hypothermia due to rainstorms was the leading cause of death for penguin chicks for two of the years studied. Extreme heat also played a factor.

Penguin chicks younger than six weeks old are particularly vulnerable to hypothermia due to rainstorms since they haven't fully developed waterproof plumage. The researchers predicted that other Magellanic penguin colonies on the continent are responding similarly to shifts in weather patterns. CC BY-ND WikiCommons

Penguin chicks younger than six weeks old are particularly vulnerable to hypothermia due to rainstorms since they haven't fully developed waterproof plumage. The researchers predicted that other Magellanic penguin colonies on the continent are responding similarly to shifts in weather patterns.

An international team of scientists wrote June 29 in the journal Nature Climate Change that shrinking sea ice in Antarctica poses a significant danger to emperor penguins. Scientists said the birds should be classified as endangered.

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