New Zealand's iconic Yellow-eyed penguins may go extinct within the next 25 years due to rising ocean temperatures and climate change, unless urgent conservation actions are undertaken, a new study has warned.
Researchers from University of Otaga in New Zealand predict that the breeding success of the penguins will continue to decline to extinction by 2060 largely due to rising ocean temperatures.
The study highlights where conservation efforts could be most effective in building penguins' resilience against climate change, researchers said.
The predictions do not include additional adult die-off events such as the one seen in 2013 in which more than 60 penguins died.
"Any further losses of Yellow-eyed penguins will bring forward the date of their local extinction," said Thomas Mattern from the University of Otago.
If the recent poor breeding years are included in the simulation of the future penguin population, things get progressively worse, researchers said.
"When including adult survival rates from 2015 into the models the mean projection predicts Yellow-eyed penguins to be locally extinct in the next 25 years," said Stefan Meyer from the University of Otago.
Increasing sea surface temperatures in part explain the negative trend in penguin numbers, researchers said.
"The problem is that we lack data to examine the extent of human impacts, ranging from fisheries interactions, introduced predators to human disturbance, all of which contribute to the penguins' demise," Mattern said.
"However, considering that climate change explains only around a third of the variation in penguin numbers, clearly those other factors play a significant role. Unlike climate change, these factors could be managed on a regional scale," he said.
The findings were published in the journal PeerJ.