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penguin.jpgAFP photograph

Climate change may threaten the survival of king penguins — one of the most iconic creatures of the Antarctic, researchers warn.

A long-term study of the penguins, known for their distinctive yellow feather ‘ear muffs’, reveals just a slight ocean warming had a significant effect on their breeding success.

International researchers behind the project say that under current predictions for global warming, the penguins face the risk of being wiped out.

King penguins — the second largest penguin after the emperor penguin — live in the sub-Antarctic islands, including Macquarie Island, south-east of Tasmania. There are about 2 million breeding pairs worldwide.

Their diet consists mainly of small fish and squid, and because of their one-year breeding cycle they are considered sensitive to any seasonal change in food supply.

Over nine years, researchers studied the birds on an island in the Crozet Archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean, marking 456 penguins with electronic tags.

They found that high sea-surface temperatures reduced the amount of marine prey available to the king penguins, forcing them to travel further in search of food.

According to their calculations, a sea-surface warming of 0.26 degrees would lead to a 9% decline in the adult penguin population.

Current models by the UN’s panel of climate scientists predict an average increase of 0.2 degrees a decade for the next two decades.

(Via The Age)

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