London, Jan 27 (ANI): A new study has found that the Emperor penguin is marching towards extinction by 21st century end because the Antarctic sea ice on which it depends for survival is shrinking at a faster rate than the bird is able to evolve if it is to avoid disaster.
By the end of the century, there could be just 400 breeding pairs of emperor penguins left, a dramatic decline from the population of about 6,000 breeding pairs in the 1960s, scientists estimated.
According to a report in The Independent, the latest assessment is based on the projected increase in global temperatures and subsequent loss of sea ice due to the changes in the Antarctic climate that are expected in the 21st century.
Scientists based their pessimistic outlook on the long-term changes to the number of emperor penguins in a colony living in a part of the Antarctic Peninsula called Terre Adelie, which has been surveyed regularly since 1962 and has experienced regional warming over the past 50 years.
The study, by Stephanie Jenouvrier and Hal Caswell of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, concluded that there was at least a 36 per cent probability of "quasi extinction" of the emperor penguin - when the population declines by at least 95 per cent - by the year 2100.
"To avoid extinction, emperor penguins will have to adapt, migrate or change the timing of their growth stages," said the scientists.
"However, given the future projected increases in greenhouse gases and their effect on Antarctic climate, evolution or migration seem unlikely for such long-lived species at the remote southern end of the Earth," they added.
Fluctuations in sea ice during the 1970s, and the effect that it had on the penguin population, were used as a model of what could happen on a larger scale during the next 100 years.
According to Dr Jenouvrier, if future climate change happened as predicted, the penguin population on Terre Adelie would probably decline dramatically in the coming decades.
"Unlike some other Antarctic bird species that have altered their life cycles, penguins don't catch on so quickly," she said.
"They are long-lived organisms, so they adapt slowly. This is a problem because the climate is changing very fast," she added. (ANI)