Antarctic Moss Survives on Ancient Penguin Droppingsnothingbut
Scientists have suggested that moss plants growing in Antarctic use old penguin waste in order to survive.
The findings were recently presented at an annual meeting in Salzburg, Austria, after research was conducted by specialists, to find out what it is that keeps the plants going in such harsh weather conditions. A meeting at the Society for Experimental Biology explained the phenomenon.
Professor Sharon Robinson, who has been studying Antarctic plants for 16 years at Australia’s University of Wollongong, went into detail about what had been discovered. It’s an interesting case, because there wasn’t initially an obvious source for the moss to gain nutrients from. The soil in the region is so poor that there had to be something which was being overlooked.
“Plants need water, sunlight and nutrients; there’s plenty of sunlight in the summer and as long as the ice melts there’s water, but the soil is basically sand and gravel,” Professor Robinson explained to BBC Nature.
In order to find out was was fueling the moss’ growth, Prof. Robinson and her team used technology able to determine what chemicals the moss consists of.
“Nitrogen that’s gone through algae, krill and fish and then penguins has a characteristic ‘seabird signature’,” she explained.
The ‘chemical signature’ uncovered that nitrogen had got there via a marine predator. As penguins don’t currently live in East Antarctica, it was up to the researchers to find out how the nitrogen-rich droppings had come to be there.
Prof. Robinson stated their conclusion: “Between 3,000 and 8,000 years ago, on the site where the moss is now growing, there used to be [Adelie] penguins. There’s fossil evidence to support that, and the little pebbles that the penguins use to make their nests are actually still there. The other thing that’s still there is the penguin poo.”
Prof Robinson continued: “And because Antarctica is so cold, those nutrients have just stayed frozen in the soil; they’re now feeding this moss.”
Research into the ways that plants can able to survive in such ways could lead to development in how food and medicines are stored for longer periods of time.