Most Antarctic animals and plants will decline by 2100

In a business-as-usual scenario, 65 percent of land animals and plants in Antarctica will decline by the end of the century, and Emperor penguins will be among those to withstand the greatest population loss.


22 December 2022

Emperor penguins expected to decline in numbers by the end of the century


About 65 percent of Antarctic animals and plants could be in decline by the end of the century if conservation efforts are not stepped up. Species expected to suffer the fastest population decline are emperor penguins, Adélie penguins, chinstrap penguins and soil nematodes.

In a two-part analysis, Jasmine Lee of the British Antarctic Survey and colleagues compiled scientific data to determine which of the Antarctic wildlife is most at risk under future moderate to severe warming scenarios. They then asked a group of 29 international experts on Antarctic biodiversity to evaluate the cost and effectiveness of different management strategies over the next century, such as reducing tourism and reducing the spread of invasive species.

The team found that under current management strategies and moderate warming conditions, 65 percent of land plants and animals will decline by the end of the century. If warming drops below two degrees Celsius by 2100, the forecast drops to 31 percent. “Everyone tends to think of Antarctica as this remote and untouched wilderness free from the threats the rest of the world faces,” Lee says, but the results suggest otherwise.

Seabirds, Emperor penguins (Aptenodites forster) are losing 90 percent of their population by 2100 because they rely on ice for breeding. Dry soil nematodes and Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) is expected to fall by more than half. Not all species have been affected by climate change: some native flowering plants are expected to spread with higher temperatures and more liquid water.

Finally, 29 experts collectively identified ten key steps to reduce the most serious damage of US$23 million annually, excluding the cost of addressing climate change, which could benefit up to 84 percent of plants and animals. The most promising solutions were to increase habitat protection for vulnerable species, manage the spread of disease, and reduce the introduction of invasive species.

Despite the challenges faced by emperor penguins, Lee says that doesn’t mean the species will definitively go extinct. “Hopefully we can reduce climate change enough that it’s not the kind of future we’re going to see,” he says.

Journal reference: PLoS BiologyDOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3001921

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