These changes in sea ice and other factors, like precipitation, all have an effect on the penguins. The ones that eat more krill have had population declines, but the ones that eat more fish have seen increased numbers.
“We know fish are better for penguin chicks,” he says. But even for the colonies whose numbers are rising, one season with a lot more snow or rain can be devastating for the chicks covered in down feathers, which soak up water. “The young penguins can just freeze,” he says.
For Youngflesh, the challenges of studying penguins are worth it. “Seabirds are often called indicators,” he says. “That means they can summarize some of the things that are going on in the marine environments.”
By studying the penguins of the Antarctic Peninsula—and their poop—Youngflesh hopes to learn how climate change will affect other coastal areas. The lessons learned may help other species survive.