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Argentina's Magellanic penguin chicks are suffering from climate change

Apart from affecting climatic conditions, climate change is also affecting fish behavior causing them to arrive later than usual, which means the chicks hatch later as well making the susceptible to rain storms.

By Ananth Baliga
Argentina's Magellanic penguin chicks are suffering from climate change
Three penguin chicks succumb to hypothermia after a rainstorm in Argentina. (Credit: Dee Boersma/U of Washington)

SEATTLE, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Penguin chicks in Argentina are dying due to the effects of climate change, such as torrential rain storms, leading to hypothermia among the chicks.

The arid Punta Tombo peninsula in Argentina is home to one of the largest colonies of Magellanic penguins. The 200,000 penguins that make their nests on the peninsula are dealing with extreme weather conditions -- extreme heat and torrential rainfall.

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Researchers say that while 40 percent of penguin chicks here died of starvation, nearly seven percent died due to climate change. The research, which took 27 years to complete, has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

“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,” said Ginger Rebstock, University of Washington research scientist.

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Penguin chicks are kept warm by their parents sitting on them. But during these torrential downpours, the chicks, who still haven't developed waterproof feathers, are dying of hypothermia despite their parents' attempts to keep them warm.

On the flip side, during the extreme heat, this lack of waterproof feathers means they cannot cool off in the water like the others.

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"Penguins live in the desert and what's really happening with these rain storms -- they are turning their nests into swimming pools and they really don't like to be wet," said Professor Dee Boersma, from the University of Washington.

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Climate change is also changing fish behavior. Penguins are reaching their nesting sites later because the fish they eat are arriving late as well. This means the chicks hatch closer to November and December making them vulnerable to seasonal rain storms.

"The birds are coming back later and on average laying their eggs three days later than they did a decade ago, so they have a shorter breeding season and that cuts down the amount of time they have to raise their chicks," said Prof. Boersma.

[University of Washington] [PLOS ONE]

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