Christidis, L. and Boles, W.E. 2008. Systematics and Taxonomy of Australian Birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
del Hoyo, J., Collar, N.J., Christie, D.A., Elliott, A. and Fishpool, L.D.C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Non-passerines. Lynx Edicions BirdLife International, Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge, UK.
SACC. 2005 and updates. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at: #http://www.museum.lsu.edu/~Remsen/SACCBaseline.htm#.
Turbott, E.G. 1990. Checklist of the Birds of New Zealand. Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Wellington.
Red List criteria met
Red List history
IUCN Red list criteria met and history
||Does not normally occur in forest
|Land mass type
Extent of occurrence (EOO)
A survey of satellite images from 2009, updated in 2019 considered 54 colonies containing approximately 256,500 breeding pairs to be a plausible breeding population estimate (Trathan et al. 2019). The numbers of juveniles, sub-adults and non-breeders are unknown, and the small colonies found since 2014 are not included.
Trend justification: The population trend of the species is predicted to be strongly linked to the condition of ice cover around Antarctica in future. The current population trend is considered stable: from a survey based on satellite images the total population was estimated at 238,000 breeding pairs (Fretwell et al. 2012) while the updated figure for 2019 was 256,500 breeding pairs (Trathan et al. 2019).
However, the future trend is predicted to show an increasingly rapid rate of decline, once changes to the availability of suitable land-fast sea-ice begin to affect breeding success.
In recent decades, there is high confidence that the total Antarctic sea ice cover exhibits no significant trend over the satellite observation era (1979 to 2018; IPCC 2019). The significant positive trend in mean ice cover between 1979 and 2015 has not persisted, following three consecutive years of below-average cover (2016 to 2018; IPCC 2019). The overall Antarctic trend is composed of near-compensating regional changes, with rapid ice loss in the Amundsen and Bellingshausen seas counteracted by rapid ice gain in the Weddell and Ross seas; most of these regional trends are strongly seasonal in character (IPCC 2019).
After the middle of this century, if the current factors leading to Southern Ocean change continue, the annual decrease in net Antarctic sea ice is predicted to reach 48%. A number of Emperor Penguin colonies are then likely to experience complete loss of breeding habitat during the critical egg-laying season (Jenouvrier et al. 2020). Receding sea ice, along with consequent changes in fisheries, are also expected to affect fish and krill stocks (Rintoul et al. 2018), thus threatening the food supply of predators such as Emperor Penguins.
Various analyses and a global demographic assessment of the potential impacts of projected climate change on Emperor Penguins have been carried out (Ainley et al. 2010 and Jenouvrier et al. 2014; 2017, 2020). Under a business-as-usual scenario (RCP 8.5), with unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions throughout the 21st century, Jenouvrier et al. (2019) show that by 2100 all colonies are projected to decrease in size, with 43 of the 54 (80%) colonies projected to decrease by more than 90%, and thus be quasi-extinct. Under this scenario, annual mean Antarctic sea ice extent decreases by 48%, and the breeding habitat of the most endangered colonies, in the north of the range, will probably be lost completely during the critical egg-laying season. Globally, the total abundance of the Emperor Penguins is projected to decrease by 86%, relative to its current size if colonies cannot find more suitable breeding habitat. Simultaneously, the growth rate of the global population is projected to decrease dramatically, resulting in an annual loss of 4.06% per year by the end of this century (a half-life of 17 years). Furthermore, even under a dispersal scenario that leads to the most optimistic population outcome (short distance dispersal, low emigration rate, and informed search), the median of the global population is projected by this model to decrease by 81% (Jenouvrier et al. 2020). Larger decreases are expected under other dispersal scenarios (up to 99% relative to its current size, with long distance dispersal and high emigration rate regardless of dispersal behaviour). By including all uncertainties, the 90% confidence envelope of the global population projections by 2100, range from a decrease of 99.2% to 67% relative to the 2009 initial size. In contrast, if the global temperature rise is kept to 2.0°C, the annual mean sea ice loss is 13% by 2100 (Jenouvrier et al. 2020). As such, only 17 colonies (31%) are likely to be quasi-extinct by 2100, but the global population will decrease by at least 44%.
There are substantial uncertainties over future changes in the patterns of weather variables and how these are likely to impact the species, as well as whether there will be a lag in the decline of mature individuals as recruitment falls, or whether this decline will be proportional to the loss of colonies as climatic changes result in the increased mortality of mature individuals, as with the estimates above. The degree to which the predicted declines will be realised is down to a very large number of variables, but there is a strong indication that if declines are detected in the Emperor Penguin population, they will then be suspected to proceed at an increasingly rapid rate necessitating listing the species at a higher threat category. In the absence of a decline, and noting that the major disruption to ice availability is predicted to begin after the middle of the century, the future rate of population reduction is suspected to be between 20-29% over three generations.
Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA)
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Aptenodytes forsteri. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 25/02/2021.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 25/02/2021.