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Penguin and seal poop powers life in Antarctica, study finds

14 / 05 / 2019, Mongabaycom News

In the extremely cold, seemingly barren Antarctic continent, poop powers life. Literally. Where colonies of penguins and elephant seals aggregate, their droppings, rich in nitrogen, enrich the soil and support thriving communities of mosses, lichens and invertebrates, a new study has found. It’s not just areas immediately around the borders of the colonies that are rich in biodiversity. The influence of the animals’ excrement seems to spread more than 1,000 meters (0.62 miles) away, researchers have found. “What we see is that the poo produced by seals and penguins partly evaporates as ammonia,” Stef Bokhorst, a researcher at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands, and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Then, the ammonia gets picked up by the wind and is blown inland, and this makes its way into the soil and provides the nitrogen that primary producers need in order to survive in this landscape.” Bokhorst and his colleagues found this by tracing the flow of nitrogen, an element that has isotopes that can be tracked, right from colonies of Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae), chinstrap penguins (P. antarctica), gentoo penguins (P. papua) and elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) to mosses, lichens and tiny invertebrates. They trekked through the landscape, collecting samples of soil and vegetation, and set up sensors to detect airborne ammonia, a compound made of nitrogen and hydrogen. They also spent months in the lab analyzing the samples, as well as counting and identifying the invertebrates they had collected. Their analysis showed that ammonia released from penguin…

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