Rains Spurred by Climate Change Killing Penguin Chicks: Page 2

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David Ainley, a senior wildlife ecologist at ecological consulting firm H.T. Harvey & Associates who studies Antarctic penguin colonies, says that, aside from giving Magellanic chicks the chills, rain can also damage the burrows that they live in during their early days.

"I think that pairs that have good burrows probably wouldn't suffer much of an effect, but it might be harder for pairs that have not competed successfully for where to make their burrow," Ainley, who was not involved in this study, told LiveScience. "Shallow burrows, or no burrow at all — those would be the ones that are most affected by rain."

Climate-change connection

The team noted that not all rainstorms killed the chicks. Of the 233 storms that occurred over the course of the study period, only 16 resulted in chick deaths. Still, the researchers pointed out that the types of heavy storms that did result in mortalities are projected to become more frequent, with some climate models predicting an increase in extreme precipitation in the Southern Hemisphere summer by 40 to 70 percent between 2076 and 2100, compared with that seen between 1951 and 1976.

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Though the researchers only analyzed a single Magellanic colony in the study, they expect that colonies of the same species elsewhere along the coasts of Chile and Argentina likely react similarly to changes in weather patterns.

Wayne Trivelpiece, an Antarctic penguin researcher with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Southwest Fisheries Science Center, based in La Jolla, Calif., agrees that climate change is a serious threat to these and other penguin populations around the world. He has spent nearly the past 40 years studying penguins in Antarctica, and said he has also seen a decline in populations that he feels comfortable attributing to the indirect effects of climate change.

"I don't think it is a real stretch to make that kind of connection," Trivelpiece told LiveScience. "But the actual hard evidence will come many decades down the road."

Original article on LiveScience.

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