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As the warming climate threatens to melt Antarctica’s glaciers, it is also helping plants to grow more quickly on the frozen continent, according to New Scientist.
Antarctica houses only two flowering plants, Deschampsia antarctica and Colobanthus quitensis.
In their paper, a research team studied their growth at a number of sites on Signy Island from 2009 to 2019. They compared their findings with surveys from the previous 50 years and discovered a change in growth patterns.
Not only had the sites become more densely populated with the two flowering plants but they had also grown faster annually as the climate warmed: The Deschampsia grew as much in 10 years as it did from 1960 to 2009, while the Colobanthus grew five times as much.
The team noted that their growth seems to be accelerating, which they described as the beginning of a “step change or a tipping point.”
Lead author Nicoletta Cannone acknowledged that other factors have also contributed to the plants’ growth, such as the declining fur seal population. But she maintains that the links to rising temperatures are clear.
She added that the warming climate could also lead to more invasive species occupying the continent and potentially destabilizing local ecosystems and biodiversity.
“If we extrapolate what we observed on Signy Island to other sites in Antarctica, a similar process can also occur,” she said. “This means that the Antarctic landscape and biodiversity could change rapidly.”