Polar biologists stumbled upon a species of moss during an expedition to the ice-covered continent in 2017. Identification is laborious, and it took the scientists five years to confirm that the species had been discovered for the first time. The peer-reviewed paper describing this discovery has been accepted in the leading international journal, Journal of Asia-Pacific Biodiversity.
The biologists, based in the Central University of Punjab, have named the species Bryum bharatiensis. Bharati is the Hindu goddess of learning and the name of one of India’s Antarctic research stations.
Prof Felix Bast, a biologist who was part of the six-month-long expedition to the continent – the 36th by Indian scientists – discovered the dark green species at Larsemann Hills, overlooking the Southern Ocean, in January 2017. This is located near Bharati, one of the remotest research stations in the world.
Plants need nitrogen, along with potassium, phosphorus, sunlight, and water to survive. Only 1% of Antarctica is ice-free. “The big question was that how does moss survive in this landscape of rock and ice,” Prof Bast said.
The scientists found that this moss mainly grew in areas where penguins bred in large numbers. Penguin poop has nitrogen. “Basically, the plants here survive on penguin poop. It helps that the manure doesn’t decompose in this climate,” said Prof Bast.