Antarctic volcanoes sheltering life through ice ages

ARC (DECRA) project, January 2014 - December 2016

Volcanic areas could act as safe-havens for plants and animals in glaciated regions. This research will use molecular, ecological and spatial analyses to test whether Antarctic species sheltered in patches of ice-free land near volcanoes during the last Ice Age.

Understanding how plants and animals responded to past climate change can help us to predict what might happen in the future, yet there are key gaps in our knowledge of past processes. Genetic evidence shows that many Antarctic species have been isolated on the continent for millions of years, yet during the last Ice Age Antarctica was largely blanketed in glaciers; how could species have survived such extreme conditions, and how did they respond to past global warming? This research will assess whether Antarctic species survived ice ages on ice-free land near volcanoes and, capitalising on the unique setting of Antarctica, will give insights into the role of volcanoes in promoting biodiversity in cold regions.

The first paper from this project, which showed that the species richness of plants and fungi in Antarctica decreases with distance from geothermal areas, was published in PNAS. You can access the article for free HERE, or read about it in my summary in The Conversation, HERE, or read news coverage by following the links HERE.