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Emperor penguin 'marching to extinction by end of the century'

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Emperor penguin 'marching to extinction by end of the century'

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The Emperor penguin is marching towards extinction because the Antarctic sea ice on which it depends for survival is shrinking at a faster rate than the bird is able evolve if it is to avoid disaster, a study has found.

By the end of the century there could be just 400 breeding pairs of Emperor penguins left standing, a dramatic decline from the population about about 6,000 breeding pairs that existed in the 1960s, scientists estimated.

The latest assessment of the future size of the Emperor penguin population is based on the projected increase in global temperatures and subsequent loss of sea ice due to the changes in the Antarctic climate that are expected in the 21st Century, the study found.

Scientists based their pessimistic outlook on the long-term changes to the number of Emperor penguins in a colony living in a part of the Antarctic Peninsula called Terre Adelie, which has been surveyed regularly since 1962 and has experienced regional warming over the past 50 years.

The study by Stephanie Jenouvrier and Hal Caswell of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts concluded that there is at least a 36 per cent probability of “quasi extinction” of the Emperor penguin -- when the population declines by at least 95 per cent -- by the year 2100.

“To avoid extinction, Emperor penguins will have to adapt, migrate or change the timing of their growth stages,” the scientists report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“However, give the future projected increases in greenhouse gases and its effect on Antarctic climate, evolution or migration seem unlikely for such long-lived species at the remote southern end of the Earth,” they say.

Fluctuations in sea ice during the 1970s, and the effect that it has on the penguin population, were used as a model of what could happen on a larger scale during the next 100 years or so of climate change.

Dr Jenouvrier said that if future climate change happens as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the penguin population ion Terre Adelie will probably decline dramatically in the coming decades.

"Unlike some other Antarctic bird species that have altered their life cycles, penguins don't catch on so quickly," Dr Jenouvrier said.

"They are long-lived organisms, so they adapt slowly. This is a problem because the climate is changing very fast," she said.

Emperor penguins are renown for the way the males are left to incubate the eggs on the sea ice through the long Antarctic winter while the females return to the sea to feed.

In August, at the end of the Antarctic winter, the females return to feed the newly-hatched young as the males go to fatten up -- they lose 40 per cent of their body weight during the winter months.

In the next few weeks, both parents take it in turns to feed until the chick is old enough to join other chicks that huddle together in groups to keep warm. In December, with the winter sea ice breaking up, the entire family march together to the open sea to feed.
Times Online
Matthew Syed: United, Real and Milan are fools | David Beckham's backside: lucky to touch?
David Beckham has admitted for the first time that he is considering leaving LA Galaxy to make his move to AC Milan permanent.

The England midfielder's loan deal at the Serie A club ends in March when he is due to return to California, but his impressive performances have prompted Milan to look at the possibility of keeping him.

Beckham scored his first goal for Milan in their 4-1 victory away to Bologna on Sunday which prompted Leandro Cantamessa, the club lawyer, to add his support to the mounting campaign to keep the former Manchester United and Real Madrid player at the San Siro and the growing support has obviously turned Beckham's head. "To play here is the dream of any player," Beckham said. "But deciding is not easy, it´s a situation that requires time.

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"I am under contract [with LA Galaxy] and I have a lot of respect for them. But the possibility to play at Milan is something special. I knew I would have fun but I didn't expect to have so much fun. In any case, I am a very respectful person.

"The truth is that the Americans are doing everything to improve the level and reputation of their football. The league in the USA is young. I think ten years have to go by to achieve results."

Beckham knew the level of competition in America would be poorer than that in Europe but he does not regret making the move. "I have to admit that, having played in Europe, at times it has been frustrating to take part in certain games [in the MLS]," he said. "But once in a while, going from state to state, I have also had fun."

The 33-year-old, whose wife Victoria and three children have stayed in the United States during his loan periods, first joined Milan to improve his chances of playing for England again, but his stay in Italy has also made him feel nostalgia for past glories. "I feel Milan is very similar to Manchester United," he said. "It has that kind of tradition that only great clubs have.

"Milan, just like at United, you breathe a particular atmosphere, whether it's in the training ground or the stadium. And then Milan has that trophy room - this makes you feel special.

"The first day in Milan's changing room I was very nervous, like the first day in school. But the first true emotion, I felt it when I arrived in December to Milan's training ground, when I put on the Milan jersey. My wife was sitting in front of me and when I put the jersey on and it had the Milan logo, I was in ecstasy."

Fabio Capello, the England coach, will be at tonight's game against Genoa to monitor Beckham's fitness ahead of next month's friendly with Spain.

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