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Volcanoes helped plants and animals survive ice age, study finds

March 12, 2014 at 11:29 AM   |   Comments

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SYDNEY, March 12 (UPI) -- Australian researchers say they found evidence that shows heat and steam from volcanoes helped some plants and animals survive the ice age.

A team led by Dr. Ceridwen Fraser from the Australian National University and Dr. Aleks Terauds from the Australian Antarctic Division studied tens of thousands of records of Antarctic species and found that there were more species of plants and animals that lived near to volcanoes than those that lived further away, the researchers said in their report released Monday.

"The closer you get to volcanoes, the more species you find. This pattern supports our hypothesis that species have been expanding their ranges and gradually moving out from volcanic areas since the last ice age," Terauds said.

"Volcanic steam can melt large ice caves under the glaciers, and it can be tens of degrees warmer in there than outside. Caves and warm steam fields would have been great places for species to hang out during ice ages," Fraser said. "We can learn a lot from looking at the impacts of past climate change as we try to deal with the accelerated change that humans are now causing."

Although the study was focused on Antarctica, researchers said the findings may help scientists understand how species survived in other icy regions.

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