This study, published today in PLoS ONE, furthers our knowledge about why life exists in such an inhospitable location. This is the first paper published on Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems that attempts to answer some of these questions, and certainly the first to use such a multi-disciplinary approach to answer them. The study was undertaken in Antarctica as part of the Antarctic Latitudinal Gradient Project in an area called the ‘Darwin Mountains’, which lies around 80 degrees South in the Transantarctic Mountains.
By incorporating data such as information about the age of terrain (how long it has been uncovered by ice), and correlating this with soil geochemistry, landscape geomorphology (the study of landforms and the processes that shape them), and species diversity (microbes, invertebrates, and plants) we revealed that spatial heterogeneity and past geological history is fundamental to understanding why certain life exists in Antarctica and where they are found.
Magalhães, C., Stevens, M.I., Cary, S.C., Ball, B.A., Storey, B.C., Wall, D.H., Türk, R., Ruprecht, U. (2012) At the limits of life: multidisciplinary insights reveals environmental constraints on biotic diversity in continental Antarctica. PLoS ONE.