Looking for tiny plants in a salty desert

Biodiversity survey

Video transcript

Terrestrial biodiversity survey, Davis Aerodrome Project

Ecologists are searching for life in the rocky desert around Davis research station.

Dana Bergstrom, Australian Antarctic Division Ecologist “It looks very Mars-like, doesn’t it? It certainly feels like we’re in another planet, walking around this very, very abstract landscape of big boulders that have been ripped apart by thousands of years of wind.”

Dana Bergstrom “Antarctica is the end of the planetary spectrum for life. And here we’re in a very saline, desert area and as we’re still finding life. And that’s what really excites me.”

Their survey for the Davis aerodrome project is mapping where life exists.

Dana Bergstrom “So what we’re doing is we’ve modelled back in Australia the landscape, the terrain. And we found that there are ten habitat types. And what we have is a series of random points in each of those ten habitats that we need to go and visit and survey for vegetation.”

Dana Bergstrom “So by going to random points and recording what’s there, we know there there’s life or no life.”

The scientists have developed a high-tech app to guide their survey and record data from each site.

Dana Bergstrom “We have 2,000 on our map. No way we’re going to get near to 2,000. But we hope to go between 500 and 1,000 sites.”

Dana Bergstrom “This area has been under sea in the Holocene. That’s about the last 6,000 years ago. And so there’s still salt deposits here. But even in this desert, we still find life. But it’s hidden. It’s cryptic. And the place we find it, is under quartz rocks. And the reason why the quartz works but not other rocks is that light can filter through it. And here under the base you can see this amazing emerald green algae that’s growing on the rock. So the remarkable thing is that what we’re finding is that half a metre away it can be really, really salty. But under this rock is a place for life.”

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