Polar biologists stumbled upon a new species of moss during an expedition to the ice-covered continent in 2017. It took scientists five years to confirm that the species had been discovered for the first time.
A peer-reviewed article describing this discovery has appeared in the leading international journal, the Journal of Asia-Pacific Biodiversity. Biologists working at Central Punjab University named it Bryum Bharatiensis. Bharati – in ancient Indian mythology, this is the goddess of knowledge and the name of one of the Indian Antarctic research stations.
Professor Felix Bast, a biologist on a six-month expedition to the continent, discovered a dark green view over the Larsemann Hills overlooking the Southern Ocean in January 2017. This place is located near Bharati, one of the most remote research stations in the world.
Plants need nitrogen to survive, as well as potassium, phosphorus, sunlight and water. Only 1% of Antarctica is ice-free. “The big question was how the moss survives in this landscape of rocks and ice,” the scientists noted.
Scientists have found that this moss grows mainly in areas where penguins breed in large numbers. Penguin droppings contain nitrogen. “Basically, the plants here survive on penguin droppings. This is facilitated by the fact that manure does not decompose in this climate, ”says Professor Bast.
Scientists say they still don’t understand how plants survive under a thick layer of snow during the six months of winter. At this time, there is no sunshine, and the temperature drops to -76 ° C.
Scientists believe it is likely that at this time the moss dries out to a dormant stage and revives in September, when sunlight begins to hit it again. The dried moss then absorbs water from the melting snow.
After collecting the samples, Indian scientists spent five years sequencing the plant’s DNA and comparing its shape to other plants. Today, Antarctica, the driest, coldest and windiest continent, has over a hundred species of mosses documented.