Penguins are not adapting fast enough to climate change and this is dramatic for their species

Penguins, a species of bird in the Spheniscidae family, are evolving very slowly and may soon suffer the catastrophic consequences of climate change, a new study suggests.

Penguins are arguably one of the most fascinating seabirds in the world. Primarily evolving in the waters of Antarctica, Australia or New Zealand, this little cousin of the penguin seems to be adapting to its environment and the catastrophic consequences of climate change. However, that may not be the case soon.

A new study, shared by the journal Nature communication And published by ScienceAlert on July 22, 2022, confirms that the evolution of this seabird will be much “slow” at present and that this evolution may harm the species – it will not be able to adapt to the current climate change soon. , is considered too fast for its ability to evolve.

The “slow” evolution of penguins will make them vulnerable to climate change

Research this review Nature communication Reveals to us the beginning of the history of the first penguin. These small seabirds, close cousins ​​of penguins, adapted surprisingly and quickly to the climate and temperatures of the Southern Hemisphere after their ancestors went extinct. Years ago: Palaeodiptes Klekowski.

The study notes that some birds, especially penguins, had more room to spread and breed after the dinosaurs disappeared. Small seabirds have settled in places with different climates around the world. They also eventually evolved into large marine predators.” Over 60 million years, these iconic birds have evolved as highly specialized marine predators and are now well adapted to the most extreme environments on Earth. », specifying the authors of the study.

Penguins are unable to fly. On the other hand, they are very good swimmers. // Source: Flickr (cropped image)

However, research by scientists reveals that penguins now have an extremely slow rate of evolution (perhaps the slowest of all bird species in the world). The study claims that mass extinctions are the main reason for their slow rate of genetic mutation and that, since their transition to marine life, ” The current rate of global warming, combined with a limited number of refuges in the Southern Ocean, will likely outpace the penguins’ ability to adapt.. »

The researchers compared a total of 17 different species of birds. They observed that the rate of evolution of waterfowl is generally lower than that of landbirds. Researchers believe that an aquatic lifestyle may have been the main reason for the low rate of evolution. They also believe that the rate of evolution of birds is lower in colder climates, such as Antarctica: Birds evolve at a lower rate in cooler climates. »

Consequences of physical isolation for penguins

Penguins have had to adapt to repeated climate changes and diverse marine environments over thousands of years – scientists have found that several species of penguins experienced periods of physical isolation during the last Ice Age.

Emperor penguins
A group of emperor penguins. // Source: Pixabay

Penguins have spread to South America and Antarctica several times. This isolation prevents them from coming into contact with other penguins and forces them to live in more fragmented habitat areas and where they find less food or shelter. As a result, the DNA of each penguin species became different and more specific.

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