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Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins in waters around the Antarctic Peninsula.

Chinstrap penguins (with black stripe under the chin) and gentoo penguins in waters near the Antarctic Peninsula. In recent decades, gentoos have flourished but chinstraps have floundered. Credit: Rachael Herman/Stony Brook University

Animal behaviour

Climate change splits two penguin species into winners and losers

As the world warms, an adaptable Antarctic bird thrives while the fortunes of a specialist relative fall.

Populations of a picky species of Antarctic penguin have plummeted as a less-fussy species has prospered, showing that even closely related species respond differently to the effects of climate change.

Chinstrap (Pygoscelis antarctica) and gentoo (Pygoscelis papua) penguins share a habitat and a taste for Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), small shrimp-like creatures that were once abundant. But over the past 40 years, warming waters and decreasing sea ice have made krill scarcer. During the same time period, chinstrap penguin populations have also tumbled, whereas gentoo penguins have experienced a more than sixfold increase in numbers.

Michael Polito at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and his colleagues analysed the chemistry of penguin feathers from museums for clues to the birds’ diets. The team found that, in recent decades, gentoo penguins have shifted from depending almost exclusively on krill to a more diverse diet that includes fish and squid. But the researchers detected no change in the chinstraps’ diet, indicating that specialist species such as the chinstrap are much more vulnerable to environmental change.

More Research Highlights...

Ember and thick smoke from bushfires reach Braemar Bay in New South Wales

Vast bush fires that swept across Australia at the end of 2019 and the start of 2020 filled the skies with enough smoke to warm a portion of the atmosphere. Credit: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty

Atmospheric science

Smoke from Australian fires turned up the heat in the southern sky

The catastrophic wildfires of late 2019 and early 2020 triggered a lingering temperature rise in a section of Earth’s lower atmosphere.
Visible and infrared images of the device in fully discharged and charged states

A display screen in its uncharged (top left) and charged (top right) state in visible light. The screen reflects one range of infrared wavelengths when uncharged (bottom left) and another range when charged (bottom right). Credit: M. S. Ergoktas et al./Nature Photon.

Optics and photonics

One screen, three images — some invisible in ordinary light

A graphene-based device can display several images simultaneously using a range of wavelengths.
Woman harvesting teff, Ethiopia

A farmer in Ethiopia harvests teff, a cereal. Small farms tend to have more-diverse landscapes than do sprawling industrial operations. Credit: Andia/Universal Images Group/Getty

Environmental sciences

Small farms outdo big ones on biodiversity — and crop yields

Large-scale farms account for most of the global food supply, but smallholdings protect species and are just as profitable.
Diagram of the nuclear composition and electron configuration of an atom of xenon-132.

A xenon atom’s electrons (grey circles; illustration) have been observed and even manipulated as they shifted their position. Credit: Carlos Clarivan/Science Photo Library

Atomic and molecular physics

An atom shuffles its electrons at ultrahigh speed — and is caught in the act

Scientists capture the movement of electrons in a xenon atom, a phenomenon that lasts for a fraction of one-billionth of a second.
A canal running alongside banks of earth.

An irrigation canal in the dry and intensively farmed San Joaquin Valley of California. Solar panels over such canals are more efficient than those on dry land. Credit: Citizens of the Planet/Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty

Renewable energy

Solar panels that throw shade on canals are an environmental win–win

Placing solar arrays over canals would prevent water loss and improve panels’ energy harvest.
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