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Projected continent-wide declines of the emperor penguin under climate change

Nature Climate Change volume 4, pages 715718 (2014) | Download Citation


Climate change has been projected to affect species distribution1 and future trends of local populations2,3, but projections of global population trends are rare. We analyse global population trends of the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri), an iconic Antarctic top predator, under the influence of sea ice conditions projected by coupled climate models assessed in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) effort4. We project the dynamics of all 45 known emperor penguin colonies5 by forcing a sea-ice-dependent demographic model6,7 with local, colony-specific, sea ice conditions projected through to the end of the twenty-first century. Dynamics differ among colonies, but by 2100 all populations are projected to be declining. At least two-thirds are projected to have declined by >50% from their current size. The global population is projected to have declined by at least 19%. Because criteria to classify species by their extinction risk are based on the global population dynamics8, global analyses are critical for conservation9. We discuss uncertainties arising in such global projections and the problems of defining conservation criteria for species endangered by future climate change.

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We acknowledge Institute Paul Emile Victor (Programme IPEV 109) and Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises for TA penguin data and the modelling groups Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) and the WCRP’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling (WGCM) for sea ice data. S.J. acknowledges support from CIRES Visiting fellowships, WHOI Unrestricted funds, the Grayce B. Kerr Fund and the Penzance Endowed Fund in Support of Assistant Scientists and H.C. acknowledges support from NSF Grant DEB-1145017, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and ERC Advanced Grant 322989. We acknowledge D. Besson and K. Delord for TA penguin data management, P. Trathan and P. Fretwell for making satellite population counts available for earlier analysis and D. Ainley, L. Desvilettes and J. Garnier for fruitful discussions.

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Author notes

    • Julienne Stroeve
    • , Mark Serreze
    • , Christophe Barbraud
    •  & Henri Weimerskirch

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Biology Department, MS-50, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA

    • Stéphanie Jenouvrier
    •  & Hal Caswell
  2. Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, UMR 7372 CNRS/Universiré de La Rochelle, F-79360 Villiers en Bois, France

    • Stéphanie Jenouvrier
    • , Christophe Barbraud
    •  & Henri Weimerskirch
  3. National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado 80305, USA

    • Marika Holland
  4. National Snow and Ice Data Center, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA

    • Julienne Stroeve
    •  & Mark Serreze
  5. University College London, Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, Pearson Building, Gower Street London WC1E 6BT, UK

    • Julienne Stroeve
  6. Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, 1090GE Amsterdam, Netherlands

    • Hal Caswell


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This research was designed and coordinated by S.J., M.H., M.S., H.W. and H.C. Analyses were performed and coordinated by S.J. with the support of H.C. (demographic analysis), M.H. (climate models analysis), J.S. and M.S. (sea ice observations), C.B. and H.W. (emperor penguin observations). S.J. and H.C. contributed new analytic tools. Figures were created by S.J. (emperor penguin projections) and M.H. (sea ice maps). S.J., M.H. and H.C. wrote the paper. J.S., M.S., C.B. and H.W. contributed equally to the study. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Stéphanie Jenouvrier or Julienne Stroeve or Mark Serreze or Christophe Barbraud or Henri Weimerskirch.

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