How does rising atmospheric CO2 affect marine organisms?

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Resurrecting the Terrestrial Biota of the Antarctic Peninsula and Scotia Arc
Convey, P. and Smith, R.I.L. 2006. Responses of terrestrial Antarctic ecosystems to climate change. Plant Ecology 182: 1-10.

The authors note that "the region of the Antarctic Peninsula and Scotia Arc [South Shetland, South Orkney and South Sandwich Islands] has experienced one of the most rapid rates of environmental warming seen worldwide over the last 30-50 years." Hence, it is only natural to wonder how the region's newly exposed land surfaces are responding to being freed from their long imprisonment beneath seemingly eternal layers of ice and snow.

What was done
Concentrating on this rapidly warming region, Convey and Smith collated and reviewed a large array of evidence obtained from a wide variety of observational and manipulative studies that had been conducted there over the years, and that "investigate the effect of climate change, especially increased temperature, on the processes of colonization and subsequent community development by plants."

What was learned
The British Antarctic Survey scientists found that "botanical responses to recent climate amelioration are already visible in the maritime and sub-Antarctic, in the form of rapid local expansion of populations of flowering plants, comparable changes in bryophytes, and rapid colonization of ground recently exposed by snow and ice recession," and they note that "these changes facilitate and are rapidly followed by the development of typical terrestrial invertebrate communities."

From whence do these rapidly expanding ecosystems come? According to Convey and Smith, the plants that sustain them arise from propagule banks found in the once-frozen soil that is now exposed to the welcome rays of the long-absent sun; and as these past terrestrial ecosystems awaken from their long winter's nap, they reveal biotic associations that have not seen the light of day for many long centuries.

What it means
To bring ecosystems of the long-lost past back to life, as it were, is one of the great benefits of the phenomenal localized warming of the Antarctic Peninsula and Scotia Arc.

Reviewed 8 November 2006