Geothermal activity helps life survive glacial cycles
Climate change has played a critical role in the evolution and structure of Earth’s biodiversity. Geothermal activity, which can maintain ice-free terrain in glaciated regions, provides a tantalizing solution to the question of how diverse life can survive glaciations. No comprehensive assessment of this “geothermal glacial refugia” hypothesis has yet been undertaken, but Antarctica provides a unique setting for doing so. The continent has experienced repeated glaciations that most models indicate blanketed the continent in ice, yet many Antarctic species appear to have evolved in almost total isolation for millions of years, and hence must have persisted in situ throughout. How could terrestrial species have survived extreme glaciation events on the continent? Under a hypothesis of geothermal glacial refugia and subsequent recolonization of nongeothermal regions, we would expect to find greater contemporary diversity close to geothermal sites than in nongeothermal regions, and significant nestedness by distance of this diversity. We used spatial modeling approaches and the most comprehensive, validated terrestrial biodiversity dataset yet created for Antarctica to assess spatial patterns of diversity on the continent. Models clearly support our hypothesis, indicating that geothermally active regions have played a key role in structuring biodiversity patterns in Antarctica. These results provide critical insights into the evolutionary importance of geothermal refugia and the history of Antarctic species.
Authors: Fraser, Ceridwen I., Terauds, Aleks, Smellie, John, Convey, Peter, Chown, Steven L.