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It's Surprising How Emperor Penguins Are Adapting To Climate Change

Update Date: Jun 23, 2014 09:04 AM EDT

Emperor penguins, thought to be tied to a single breeding location, are willing to relocate their nesting grounds in response to climate change, according to a new study. 

Researchers tracked penguin colonies through satellite images over three years and reported six instances of them shifting to different locations in response to changing temperatures. 

Up until now, it was believed that emperor penguins return to the same breeding grounds annually. The behavior is also known as philopatric behavior. 

"Our research showing that colonies seem to appear and disappear throughout the years challenges behaviors we thought we understood about emperor penguins," said UM researcher Michelle LaRue, in the press release. 

"If we assume that these birds come back to the same locations every year, without fail, these new colonies we see on satellite images wouldn't make any sense," she said. " These birds didn't just appear out of thin air -- they had to have come from somewhere else."

Researchers were concerned lately that retreating sea ice caused by climate change could affect the colony that breeds on it. However the recent satellite images showed the area is not isolated at all. 

"That means we need to revisit how we interpret population changes and the causes of those changes," LaRue added.

The study findings were shared at the IDEACITY conference in Toronto this month. It will be also published in Ecography, a professional journal publishing research in spatial ecology and biogeography. 

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