Volcanoes helped plant and animal species survive ice ages
Researchers has found evidence that the steam and heat from volcanoes and heated rocks allowed many species of plants and animals to survive past ice ages.
The study helps scientists understand how species respond to climate change.
The research could solve a long-running mystery about how some species survived and continued to evolve through past ice ages in parts of the planet covered by glaciers.
The team, led by Dr Ceridwen Fraser from the Australian National University and Dr Aleks Terauds from the Australian Antarctic Division, studied tens of thousands of records of Antarctic species, collected over decades by hundreds of researchers, and found there are more species close to volcanoes, and fewer further away.
"Volcanic steam can melt large ice caves under the glaciers, and it can be tens of degrees warmer in there than outside. Caves and warm steam fields would have been great places for species to hang out during ice ages," Dr Fraser said.
"We can learn a lot from looking at the impacts of past climate change as we try to deal with the accelerated change that humans are now causing," the researcher said.
While the study was based on Antarctica, the findings help scientists understand how species survived past ice ages in other icy regions, including in periods when it is thought there was little or no ice-free land on the planet.
Antarctica has at least 16 volcanoes which have been active since the last ice age 20,000 years ago.
The study examined diversity patterns of mosses, lichens and bugs which are still common in Antarctica today.
Professor Peter Convey from the British Antarctic Survey said around 60 percent of Antarctic invertebrate species are found nowhere else in the world.
(Posted on 11-03-2014)
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