08 July 2012

Ancient penguin poo provides nutrients for Antarctic moss

ANTARCTICA - Scientists have discovered that Antarctic moss grows thanks to Adelie penguin poo that is thousands of years old, BBC Nature reported.

Professor Sharon Robinson from Australia's University of Wollongong and her team analysed the chemicals that made up an Antarctic moss plant and found that it contained nitrogen that had passed through a marine predator.

"Nitrogen that's gone through algae, krill and fish and then penguins has a characteristic 'seabird signature'," Prof Robinson told BBC Nature.

But no penguins live on the lakeside site in East Antarctica where the moss beds are located, so the scientists realised that they must be growing on the site of an ancient penguin colony.

Prof Robinson said the Adelie penguins used to live on the site between 3000 and 8000 years ago, and that this is supported by fossil evidence and the fact that there is still penguin poo.

"And because Antarctica is so cold, those nutrients have just stayed frozen in the soil; they're now feeding this moss," she said.

The findings were presented in Salzburg, Austria at the annual meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology.

Antarctic moss lives on ancient penguin poo by Victoria Gill, 5 July 2012, BBC Nature

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