Nearly all of the world’s emperor penguin colonies may be pushed to the brink of extinction by 2100, a study has found, as the United States moves to list them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
If climate change continues at its current rate, more than 98 percent of emperor penguin colonies are expected to become quasi-extinct by the turn of the century, a group of global researchers wrote in the journal Global Change Biology . The scientists’ near-term predictions were equally grim: They estimated at least two-thirds of colonies would be quasi-extinct by 2050.
Dynamics of all known emperor penguin colonies under different GHG emission scenarios using a climate-dependent meta-population model including the effects of extreme climate events based on the observational satellite record of colonies. Assessments for listing species under the ESA require information about how species resiliency, redundancy and representation (3Rs) will be affected by threats within the foreseeable future. Our results show that if sea ice declines at the rate projected by climate models under current energy system trends and policies, the 3Rs would be dramatically reduced and almost all colonies would become quasi-extinct by 2100.
Long-term ecological studies, such as that for the emperor penguin, are critical for providing robust science to document ecological responses to environmental change. Interdisciplinary science is also necessary to project population viability and species persistence in a future warming world. Such investments in science provide knowledge which must now inform legal frameworks, because with knowledge comes responsibility.