King penguins on the brink
RISING temperatures due to climate change could push Antarctica's king penguin populations to the brink of extinction, according to a new study.
The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, predicted that under a "business-as-usual" scenario, 70 per cent of today's 1.1 million king penguin breeding pairs would abruptly relocate or disappear before the end of the century.
Flightless king penguins are the second largest species of penguin, after the emperor.
They breed only on specific isolated islands - with no ice cover and easy access to the sea - in the Southern Ocean and can make round trips of more than 600 kilometres hunting for fish and krill in the Antarctic waters, while their chicks fast for up to a week at a time.
With warming oceans, the Antarctic polar front - a nutrient-rich upwelling which occurs where cold, deep seas mix with temperate seas and supports a huge amount of marine life - is being pushed farther south.
It means the adults have to travel farther away from their nests to look for food, leaving their offspring hungry for longer.
"They will need to either move somewhere else or they will just disappear," said Emiliano Trucchi, one of the paper's authors and an evolutionary biologist at the University of Ferrara in Italy.
"The largest colonies are on islands that will be too far from the source of food," said Trucchi.