Is global warming responsible for chinstrap penguin decline? (+video)
A population of chinstrap penguins in Antarctica has seen a 36 percent decline since 1991, in what researchers say is a consequence of declining krill populations.
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Tourism is also not a likely culprit. Deception Island, built on a volcano, is one of the most visited places in Antarctica; the 2007-08 year saw some 25,000 visitors, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). Meanwhile, the nearby chinstrap penguin colony of Bailey Head, which is usually visited by 2,000 to 3,500 people every season, showed a decline of about 50 percent.Skip to next paragraph
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Rather, a dip in the krill population may be to blame, an idea supported by the fact that Adélie penguin population (P. adeliae) in the region is also declining, while the gentoo penguin population (P. papua), which has a more variable diet, is not.
(The chinstrap, gentoo and Adélie penguins are the three pygoscelid species (in the Pygoscelis genus) that inhabit the Antarctic Peninsula, the region of the Antarctic continent where the effects of climate change are more evident, the researchers noted.)
But Barbosa says the chinstraps aren't a lost cause.
"This is an example of how the human activity far from the poles can affect the life at thousands of kilometers far from our homes," Barbosa told LiveScience. "Therefore, a more responsible use of the energy and the fossil fuels is necessary to preserve the planet and then the Antarctica."
In addition, he said, to protect the organisms that call the Antarctic home, we need to reduce human impact by reducing overfishing, tourism and even research activity.
The research was detailed online May 22 in the journal Polar Biology.
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