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Climate change stunting growth of century-old Antarctic moss shoots
Date:11/29/2011

ron Robinson from UOW's Institute for Conservation Biology and Environmental Management (School of Biological Sciences) said the team found that that most of the plants were growing 50 years ago when nuclear testing was at its peak.

In some species the peak of the radiocarbon bomb spike was found just 15 mm from the top of the 50 mm shoot suggesting that these plants may be more than 100 years old.

'Accurate dating along the moss stem allows us to determine the very slow growth rates of these mosses (ranging from 0.2 to 3.5 mm per year). Remarkably, these plants were already growing during the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. In terms of age these mosses are effectively the old growth forests of Antarctica -- in miniature," Professor Robinson said.

Although increased temperature and precipitation in the polar regions due to climate change are predicted to increase growth rates, the scientists found that at some sites growth rates have declined since the 1980s. They suggest that this is likely due to moss beds drying out, which appears to be caused by increased wind speeds around Antarctica that are linked to the Antarctic ozone hole.

In the 100 years since the start of scientific research in Antarctica, contamination of Earth's atmosphere with increased radioactivity due to nuclear weapons testing has led to radiocarbon labelling of Antarctic plants.

"This has allowed scientists to show that climate change has made the driest continent on Earth an even harsher environment for plant life," Professor Robinson said.


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Contact: Sharon Robinson
sharonr@uow.edu.au
61-024-221-5753
Wiley-Blackwell
Source:Eurekalert

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