Penguins develop slower and slower | EOS Science

Climate fluctuations over the past 60 million years have led to the evolution of penguins. This is the conclusion reached by a research team at the University of Copenhagen from the analysis of penguin fossils and the genes of modern animals.

The birds of small, now submerged Zealandia have evolved so much, that only New Zealand still stands above the water. Many new species appeared when the Drake Strait between South America and Antarctica opened about 30 million years ago.

Today’s penguins arose about 14 million years ago, when strong cooling triggered a small mass extinction and the East Antarctic Ice Sheet formed. They had lost their ability to fly long before that. They became excellent swimmers.

fast heating

The fluctuations between warm and cold periods in the last 3 million years have caused another evolutionary commotion. They frequently cut off penguins from the original population, creating new species. DNA data indicate that only then did the penguins begin to eat crustaceans like krill again. Prior to this, they had lost almost all of the genes responsible for the degradation of chitin.

According to researchers, penguins develop very slowly compared to other birds. The rate has decreased further since the emergence of the current species. It slows down more as it gets warmer. This is evident from the rates of evolution of modern penguins from warm waters as well as from the rates of evolution calculated over the past few million years. It raises the question of whether penguins can continue to adapt to rapid global warming over time.

Source: University of Copenhagen, Denmark

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