Climate change would increase the dispersal of the chinstrap penguin Foto

Photography: Diego Bravo

Of the five species of penguins that live on the Antarctic continent, the chinstrap is one of the two that has experienced a severe decline. Research conducted in 12 breeding sites in the West Antarctic and South Shetland Islands, and a population – not studied before – the subantarctic Bouvet Island, he revealed that this animal has a high diversity and genetic homogeneity due to the considerable dispersion between your colonies. However, climate change would force the chinstrap to move further to survive.

“The most commonly cited causes of the decline of this species, like the Adélie penguin, are related to climate change experienced by Antarctica. On the other hand, despite having a wide geographical distribution, from Antarctica to Bouvet Island, chinstrap penguins exchange enough individuals among the breeding colonies to avoid genetic differentiation among their populations. This result contrasts with the Papuan penguin, whose colonies are isolated from each other for hundreds of thousands of years, “says Elie Poulin, a researcher at the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity (IEB) and an academic at the University of Chile.

Juliana Vianna, a researcher at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, adds that “despite not having found genetic differentiation between the Antarctic chinstraps and the Bouvet Island, which is 3600 km away, we found a differentiation not very marked, but present between the colony of Georges Point, a town near the southern limit of the distribution of chinstraps in Antarctica. “

The study was recently published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology and counted with the participation of an international team of researchers from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity (IEB), Pontificia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais, Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos, University of Concepción, National Museum of Natural Sciences of Madrid and the Norwegian Polar Institute.

The scientists analyzed the demographic history, the dispersion by sexes, the connectivity between the colonies and the genetic diversity of this species, evidencing the differences with the penguins of Adelia and Papua, the other two species of the genus Pygoscelis that are found in the area.

The research, funded by Fondecyt, detected a marked tendency for chinstrap females to abandon their native groups to move long distances, while the behavior of philopatry, which is when an animal returns to reproduce in the same colony where it was born, is more pronounced in males.