Ecology

Bad Time for Rain

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Science  07 Feb 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6171, pp. 580
DOI: 10.1126/science.343.6171.580-a
CREDIT: © LIAN CHANG

Understanding the balance between climatic changes and weather-driven mortality requires data on both long-term climate trends and the toll taken by extreme weather. Boersma and Rebstock looked at the cause of every recorded chick mortality in an Argentinian colony of Magellanic penguins, over a nearly 30-year period, and compared these with changes in temperature and precipitation over the same time. They found that the majority of deaths were due to predation and starvation, common causes of mortality in juvenile animals. However, in a few unusual years, where extreme storms occurred during the critical period after the young are protected by the brood pouch but before they develop protective plumage, large numbers of chicks were killed by weather. Although looking at the rarity of these events one might presume that weather extremes have little effect, the number of animals killed in the storms left a persistent recruitment legacy. Rainstorms increased in frequency over the study period, and the authors suggest that this, as well as the synchronization between rainstorms and chick vulnerable periods, is likely to increase with climate change. Further, such extreme events will affect other species in the region, which have long existed under more predictable weather regimes.

PLOS One 10.1371/journal.pone.0085602 (2014).

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