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Antarctic life hung by a thread during ice ages
Date:2/15/2008

orth of the Antarctic shelf.

Polynyas have been important both in the past and today because they cause upswells of warmer water, and thereby help establish local food webs for many animals.

Thatjes team analyzed geologic and genetic records and found that during glacial periods the permanent sea-ice belt advanced much further to the North than it is now. In parts of the Southern Ocean, the summer sea-ice boundary was located where the winter sea-ice limit is today, and ice coverage was complete and a magnitude thicker than seen today. These boundaries would have forced a complete shut down of food supplies for most life, both from the sea and land.

Only species that are champions of cold weather adaptation in the present day, such as Emperor Penguins and Snow Petrels, were likely able to survive in locally restricted areas of biological productivity. Those animals, it seems likely, may have stayed in Antarctica during the Ice Ages.

But the polynyas were too isolated to support larger top predators, such as seals and whales, which had to move north to escape starvation. Many other penguin species lost access to traditional feeding grounds and ice-free breeding areas on land, which are crucial for their survival. Some of those animals may have thus been forced to emigrate as far north as the Patagonian shelf off the coast of what is now Argentina.

Science is only now beginning to ponder what happened here during the Ice Ages, says Thatje. This research is leading to a radical reconsideration of those time periods. Antarctic species are champions in adaptations to extreme cold and the harshest environmental conditions. Understanding how the stunning Antarctic fauna has evolved and coped with glacial-interglacial periods will help us to assess their sensitivity to current climate warming.

Thatje also notes that the animals of Antarctica are extremely vulnerable to warming temperatures. Their abil
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Contact: Nadine Lymn
nadine@esa.org
202-833-8773
Ecological Society of America
Source:Eurekalert

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