A study published Thursday credits penguin and seal excrement for consistently enabling a bloom of life in the harsh climate of Antarctica.
Gasses from the waste of Antarctic penguins and elephant seals are responsible for a hotspot of small invertebrates surrounding the colonies, the study found. Researchers say that creatures such as mites and roundworms often found a home in moss around the colonies.
The study says the presence of penguin and elephant seals caused the number and diversity of invertebrates to increase between two and eight times.
“What we see is that the poo produced by seals and penguins partly evaporates as ammonia,” a release quotes Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam researcher Stef Bokhorst. “Then, the ammonia gets picked up by the wind and is blown inland, and this makes its way into the soil and provides the nitrogen that primary producers need in order to survive in this landscape.”
The study, published in Current Biology, set out to study biodiversity in the Antarctic. Authors say the information could be used to assess the impact of climate change.
Researchers found “hotspots” of biodiversity surrounding the colonies and attributed the great variety of life to the spread of nitrogen from the colonies’ waste. The scale of such hotspots tracks closely with the size of the colony of penguins or seals — more so than the harshness of the climate, a release says.
“The influence of this excrement can extend more than 1,000 meters beyond the colony,” a release says.
Bokhorst said that grasslands in the U.S. or Europe can have 100,000 invertebrates per square meter. But through extensive sampling and analysis, researchers found “millions” of invertebrates per square meter in Antarctica.
Researches suggested that the rich life surrounding the colonies could allow an invasive species to thrive, which could lead to the presence of creatures such as spiders and beetles. Researchers plan to study the possible impacts of an invasive species further.
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/05/10/antarctic-life-thrives-thanks-penguin-and-seal-poop-study-says/1165000001/