What a pile of… | International Antarctic Centre

What a pile of…

The not-so-pretty preparation for climate change

We weren’t sure what to believe when we first heard it, but it appears to be true – penguin poop is helping to change Antarctica’s ecosystem.

Yes, according to this fascinating National Geographic story, the local gentoo penguins have delivered millions of pounds of “nutrient rich guano” on the rocks of Antartica, helping to prepare the ground for a warmer climate and the introduction of new plant and animal life in the future.

A Nat Geo writer undertook a civilian scientist study on a recent trip to Danco Island. Douglas Fox noticed the ‘dirt’, stating that “…here and there, the moist, brown soil was mushed in between the rocks.” The dirt actually predominantly originated from inside the approxiate 500 to 1000 penguins that made the northwestern shores of the small island their home.

“As the Peninsula warms, these outside species will all the more readily arrive, survive, and establish themselves in Antarctica. Those penguins, long laboring to carry nutrients from the ocean to land, are already creating landing pads up and down the coast of the peninsula where the newcomers can gain a foothold.”
Douglas Fox, National Geographic.

Over 1000s of years the penguin inhabitants have eaten krill from the local waters and then deposited the remains of this krill and plankton into a relatively small area.

In doing so the nutrients have increased to where such pockets are now ‘paving the way’ for new species of lichens, moss, insects and everything in the food chain that will follow to feed on this life.

It’s a terraforming process that will in all likelihood see some major developments as climate change accelerates the transformation of once inhospitable landscapes.

Photo credit: National Geographic

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