British scientists have discovered that brown alga, which lives off the coasts of Scotland, Ireland, and France, managed to survive the last ice age, which ended about 16 thousand years ago.
By studying this plant, scientists hope to learn more about the mechanisms of the impact of abrupt climate changes on marine organisms.
Dr. Andrew Want, one of the authors of the study, collected samples in Kirkwall Bay near his home in Orkney. An expert in marine ecology and biology calls the life forms he discovered “refugees” who managed to gain a foothold and survive in the face of dramatic changes in the environment.
“Kelp off the coasts of Scotland and Ireland are genetically closer to those in the Arctic than to the Breton group,” says Dr. Want. — As the ice sheet retreated from the coast of Northern Europe at the end of the last ice age, algae followed it and explored the higher latitudes of the Atlantic.”
“Brown alga is one of the main forms of life in the North Atlantic. Therefore, it is important for us to understand what affects their distribution and survival over time, and how sensitive they are to changes in the environment,” explains the scientist.
A team of researchers from the Orkney branch of Edinburgh’s Heriot-watt University studied the genetic structures of algae from 14 sites in the North Atlantic and identified three distinct groups. Scientists from Portugal and France also took part in the work.
Response to climate change
They found one distinct genetic group of algae off the Eastern coasts of Canada and the United States, another in Central and Northern Europe, and a third in the waters surrounding French Bretagne.
Dr. Want says that the “Breton group” is related to the rest, but retains distinct features. “It is worrying that this unique set of genes could disappear if greenhouse gas emissions continue, and ocean temperatures start to change rapidly. This is another example of reducing biological diversity,” the expert points out.
“Our work has shown how marine organisms in the past adapted to climate change by migrating closer to the pole and even across the ocean,” says Dr. Joao Neiva of the Algarve center for marine sciences. “Migration is a mechanism by which marine organisms mitigate the impact of global climate change, which is still occurring today.”
“Even if the species is not threatened at the global level, individual water areas may lose their uniqueness and biological diversity. This is the case with the waters that wash Bretagne,” says the Portuguese scientist.