The call of the emperor penguin: Legal responses to species threatened by climate change

Species extinction risk is accelerating due to anthropogenic climate change, making it urgent to protect vulnerable species through legal frameworks in order to facilitate conservation actions that help mitigate risk. Here, we discuss fundamental concepts for assessing climate change risks to species using the example of the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri), currently being considered for protection under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA). This species forms colonies on Antarctic sea ice, which is projected to significantly decline due to ongoing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We project the dynamics of all known emperor penguin colonies under different GHG emission scenarios using a climate-dependent meta-population model including the effects of extreme climate events based on the observational satellite record of colonies. Assessments for listing species under the ESA require information about how species resiliency, redundancy and representation (3Rs) will be affected by threats within the foreseeable future. Our results show that if sea ice declines at the rate projected by climate models under current energy system trends and policies, the 3Rs would be dramatically reduced and almost all colonies would become quasi-extinct by 2100. We conclude that the species should be listed as threatened under the ESA.


Publication status:
Authors: Jenouvrier, Stephanie, Che‐Castaldo, Judy, Wolf, Shaye, Holland, Marika, Labrousse, Sara, LaRue, Michelle, Wienecke, Barbara, Fretwell, Peter ORCIDORCID record for Peter Fretwell, Barbraud, Christophe, Greenwald, Noah, Stroeve, Julienne, Trathan, Philip N. ORCIDORCID record for Philip N. Trathan

On this site: Philip Trathan, Peter Fretwell
1 October, 2021
Global Change Biology / 27
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