The emperor penguin - Vulnerable to projected rates of warming and sea ice loss

Philip N. Trathan, Barbara Wienecke, Christophe Barbraud, Stéphanie Jenouvrier, Gerald Kooyman, Céline Le Bohec, David G. Ainley, André Ancel, Daniel P. Zitterbart, Steven L. Chown, Michelle Larue, Robin Cristofari, Jane Younger, Gemma Clucas, Charles-andré Bost, Jennifer A. Brown, Harriet J. Gillett, Peter T. Fretwell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

33 Citations (SciVal)


We argue the need to improve climate change forecasting for ecology, and importantly, how to relate long-term projections to conservation. As an example, we discuss the need for effective management of one species, the emperor penguin, Aptenodytes forsteri. This species is unique amongst birds in that its breeding habit is critically dependent upon seasonal fast ice. Here, we review its vulnerability to ongoing and projected climate change, given that sea ice is susceptible to changes in winds and temperatures. We consider published projections of future emperor penguin population status in response to changing environments. Furthermore, we evaluate the current IUCN Red List status for the species, and recommend that its status be changed to Vulnerable, based on different modelling projections of population decrease of ≥50% over the current century, and the specific traits of the species. We conclude that current conservation measures are inadequate to protect the species under future projected scenarios. Only a reduction in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions will reduce threats to the emperor penguin from altered wind regimes, rising temperatures and melting sea ice; until such time, other conservation actions are necessary, including increased spatial protection at breeding sites and foraging locations. The designation of large-scale marine spatial protection across its range would benefit the species, particularly in areas that have a high probability of becoming future climate change refugia. We also recommend that the emperor penguin is listed by the Antarctic Treaty as an Antarctic Specially Protected Species, with development of a species Action Plan.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108216
JournalBiological Conservation
Early online date8 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Thomas J. Bracegirdle, Tony Phillips and Kevin Hughes for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. PNT acknowledges the support of WWF-UK under GB095701 and SJ the support of NSF OPP 1744794 and 1643901 .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Authors


  • Antarctic
  • Aptenodytes forsteri
  • Climate change
  • Conservation
  • IUCN Red List threat status
  • Protection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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