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Gentoo penguins should be classified as four separate species instead of one, according to scientists at the Milner Centre for Evolution at the UK’s University of Bath.
Scientists analyzed the genetic and physical characteristics of gentoo penguin populations around the Southern Hemisphere, namely in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean, the South Shetland Islands in the Antarctic and the Kerguelen Islands in the Indian Ocean, a news release by the University of Bath explains.
The researchers suggest that the two new species be named P. poncetii, after the Australian seabird conservationist Sally Poncet, and P. taeniata, to recognize a former proposal for this name dating to the 1920s, the release noted.
The study, published in Ecology and Evolution, used genome data to better understand the relationships between the different populations. The data showed clear physical and genetic differences between the four populations.
“For the first time, we’ve shown that these penguins are not only genetically distinct, but that they are also physically different too,” lead author Jane Younger said in the release.
“The four species we propose live in quite different latitudes – for example P. ellsworthi lives on the Antarctic continent whereas P. poncetii, P. taeniata and P. papua live further north where conditions are milder, and so it’s not that surprising that they have evolved to adapt to their different habitats,” she explained.
Ph.D. student Josh Tyler, who was also involved in the study, noted that while the penguins look similar, there are notable differences in their skeletons.
“They look very similar to the untrained eye, but when we measured their skeletons we found statistical differences in the lengths of their bones and the sizes and shape of their beaks,” he noted.
“It’s a similar story to giraffes, which were revealed in 2016 to be four genetically distinct species,” he added.
“Currently gentoo penguins are fairly stable in numbers, however there is some evidence of the northern populations moving further south as the climate gets warmer, so we need to watch them closely,” Younger explained.
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Gentoo penguin, Penguins, Species
World news – GB – Gentoo Penguins Should Be Divided Into Four Species, Scientists Say