What is driving the biodiversity hot spots in Antarctica? As it turns out, penguin and seal poop help spread nutrients in large areas of Antarctica.
Nutrients In Poop
Antarctica may seem like a wasteland where not a lot of creatures can thrive, but there are actually creatures that do thrive there. Microscopic creatures such as mites and snow fleas are the dominant terrestrial life in Antarctica, but quite unlike the creatures that merely visit the area, they cannot go out into the water for nutrients.
Fortunately, a recent study found that poop of creatures such as penguins and seals actually help them to thrive by providing the nutrients they need. Basically, the larger creatures consume the nutrients from the ocean, and then poop them out into the land, thereby providing the said nutrients to the microscopic creatures that do not have access to it.
Further, the areas of influence in which they help provide nutrients are actually larger than the area of the colony. This means that the more creatures there are in the colony, the larger their influence is.
For instance, in some cases, what researchers called the “nitrogen footprint” of a colony was actually 240 times larger than the actual area of the colony. This is because the seal and penguin feces partially evaporates as ammonia and get blown by the wind up to 1,000 meters inland.
In fact, researchers found that the number of invertebrates surrounding penguin and seal colonies were up to eight times higher than the populations in other areas.
Biodiversity Hot Spots
Biodversity hot spots are very important, especially now when climate change and other human-caused problems are threatening many of the Earth’s species. Because of this, it is important to keep track of the areas wherein animals are thriving, especially in a remote area such as Antarctica.
In this case, the poop of seals and penguins can be seen even from space, which will help researchers to keep track of the microscopic creatures’ populations. This allows researchers to keep track of the species without having to go on expensive field excursions.
In future studies, researchers are hoping to see how potentially invasive species might also be taking advantage of the nutrients from poop.
The study is published in Current Biology.