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Climate: Penguins With Rigid Gender Roles Are Less Flexible To Find Food

Feb 10, 2016 06:39 PM EST
Rockhopper Penguin chick
Crested penguins, including Rockhopper penguins, are sticking to rigid gender roles and researchers say that in times of changing climate, this is leaving them less equipped to adjust to years with less food.
(Photo : wikipedia commons)

Penguins aren't showing flexibility in their gender roles, and it hurts their parenting in times of climate change, says a new study. This will bring them closer to extinction.

That is, crested penguins have fixed division of labor and this makes them less able to address food shortages. The report on this was recently published by researchers from Massey University and National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research in New Zealand, in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

Among penguins, the seven species of Eudyptes penguins (crested penguins, including rockhopper penguins) are less flexible than other types. The males have the role of guarding and fasting for three to four weeks after the eggs hatch. Females do the hunting and food-finding during that period. After the first four weeks pass, about six weeks take place when chicks can be fed by both parents.

So, no matter the environmental influences, these penguins never vary those roles. Based on research on Eastern Rockhopper Penguins on Campbell Island, for the abundant 2011 and lean 2012 seasons, scientists noted that in the latter year's tougher conditions, males especially were trying to regain the mass that they had lost while fasting and guarding the chicks. They did this as either parent might do, by flying out at sea and eating prey found there, but they spent longer re-bulking than the females. As a result, the males were less likely to bring food in regularly to the chicks. The offspring as a result grew more slowly.

"Eudyptes penguins, ostensibly anchored in a reproductive strategy maladapted to a marine environment where food availability is less predictable, will continue to be highly threatened by climate change," warns Morrison.

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-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales


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