Peter Fretwell, British Antarctic Survey
This 2010 photo provided by the British Antarctic Survey shows emperor penguin chicks at Antarctica's Halley Bay. A study released on Wednesday, April 24, 2019, finds that since 2016 there are almost no births at Halley Bay, the second biggest breeding ground for emperor penguins. Numbers are booming nearby, but it doesn’t make up for the losses at this site.

SALT LAKE CITY — Penguin poop helps create and cultivate life in Antarctica, according to a new study.

The New York Times reports that the new research found that penguin and elephant seal excrement can create biodiversity across Antarctica.

Stef Bokhorst, the paper’s lead author and a polar ecologist with the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands, said that the excrement creates biodiversity that wouldn’t be seen otherwise.

  • “Despite the cold, dry weather, the nitrogen in the animals’ waste provides nutrients that are otherwise unavailable in this stark setting,” The New York Times reports.
  • “If you put more poo in the system, the Antarctic wildlife like that,” Bokhorst told The New York Times.

The researchers said in the study, which was published in Current Biology, that Antarctica is sometimes too hard to study because of its cold temperatures.

  • “Bokhorst and his colleagues managed to find a direct connection between areas of biodiversity — filled with lichens, mosses, microscopic animals and small creatures — and the nitrogen left behind when penguins and elephant seals defecate,” according to The New York Times.

Bokhorst and his team found that the excrement impacts more biodiversity depending on the number of animals living in the colony and not so much on the temperature or humidity of the environment, according to Fox News. The researchers said animals’ feces could impact biodiversity from about 1,000 meters away.

  • "What we see is that the poo produced by seals and penguins partly evaporates as ammonia," Bokhorst said in a statement. "Then, the ammonia gets picked up by the wind and is blown inland, and this makes its way into the soil and provides the nitrogen that primary producers need in order to survive in this landscape."
1 comment on this story

Flashback: Penguin excrement has a scientific history. In 2009, scientists wanted to track emperor penguins from space. So they ended up looking at penguin poop for help, CNN reports.

  • "We can't see actual penguins on the satellite maps because the resolution isn't good enough," said mapping expert Peter Fretwell, according to CNN. "But during the breeding season the birds stay at a colony for eight months. The ice gets pretty dirty and it's the guano stains that we can see."