Scientists may be changing the way we define different species in the penguin kingdom. They’re saying that the gentoo penguin may be four species rather than one. New evidence shows that the birds are slightly different in shape and size, with variations in their DNA.
Scientists believe that counting them as separate species will help monitor potential declines in the population. Making the change could raise the number of penguin species from 18 to 21.
Dr. Jane Younger of the Milner Center for Evolution at the University of Bath argues (via BBC) that while they may look similar on the outside, making them difficult to tell them apart, their genetic makeup “very clearly” indicates that these are four separate species.
Unfortunately, penguins are facing major issues in the world including over-fishing, climate change, and plastic pollution. The gentoo population specifically is doing pretty well in regards to climate change, but scientists believe that others may not be as lucky. However, some populations may not have been monitored for decades.
Younger believes that some northern populations may be moving south as the climate begins to get warmer due to climate change. However, gentoo penguins seem to be “fairly stable in numbers.” This indicates that they are starting to isolate themselves to the point where they don’t interbreed, despite being able to easily swim the distance.
Scientists argue that’s why they should be considered four different species. They live in different latitudes in the southern hemisphere, in the Antarctic, and further north. If they do manage to separate species into four, we have name suggestions. Keep Gentoo, and add Debian, Fedora, and Zorin.