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Penguins Past Shows What We Could Have Never Imagined – New Study

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Australian and New Zealander experts have conducted extensive research into the penguin’s evolutionary past in order to better understand the fascinating birds’ transition from land to water and their ability to survive in some of the planet’s harshest settings.

A new study published in Nature Communications sheds light on how penguins have evolved over time.

The research advances our knowledge of how penguins adapted to a maritime habitat and how creatures may survive in some of the harshest conditions on Earth.

Penguins have been around for more than 60 million years and have developed a highly specialized body for living in water. Before the polar ice sheets formed, they had already lost the ability to fly and could dive with their wings.

Previous research has shown how diverse current penguins are, but it has been constrained by sampling problems and hasn’t yet taken extinct species into account.

To reconstruct the evolutionary history of penguins, Theresa Cole and colleagues analyzed datasets combining genetic data from all currently extant and recently extinct lineages with data from fossils.

The authors show that the different kinds of penguins came about because the global climate changed between cold and warm times. This caused the populations of each species to shrink and then grow in the Southern Ocean.

Additionally, they show that the evolutionary rates of penguins are negatively associated with temperature, suggesting that they have one of the slowest rates of evolution seen in birds.

The authors looked at how individual genes changed over time in different penguin lineages. They found genes that may be involved in thermoregulation, oxygenation, diving, vision, diet, body size, and body shape.

Their results imply that penguin ancestors adapted their color vision and visual sensitivity to match the blue light of the ocean’s ambient light.

Given the limited habitat and present rate of warming in the Southern Ocean, the authors emphasize that their findings raise worries regarding the adaptability of penguins in the near future.

Image Credit: Getty

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