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After examining the moss and microbes growing in the southern end of the Antarctic Peninsula over the past five decades’ researchers believe there has been widespread ecological changes throughout the peninsula.

Matthew Amesbury, the lead author of the study from the University of Exeter in the U.K. said that the study shows striking changes in the ecology of the peninsula, likely caused by warming temperatures.

“This gives us a much clearer idea of the scale over which these changes are occurring,” Amesbury said in a statement. “Previously, we had only identified such a response in a single location at the far south of the Antarctic Peninsula but now we know that moss banks are responding to recent climate change across the whole of the Peninsula.”

The Antarctic Peninsula is considered one of the most rapidly warming regions with annual temperatures rising about 0.5 degrees Celsius each decade since the 1950’s.

Scientists have been studying core samples taken from moss banks established more than 150 years ago and during the new study they added three additional sites and five cores including three Antarctic islands where the deepest and oldest moss banks grow to their earlier samples.

After analyzing the core samples from 150 years ago the researchers said the peninsula has warmed in the past 50 years. According to Amesbury, said the consistency of changes in the samples taken from different areas of the Peninsula show that the changes are widespread.

The researchers also said that the sensitivity of moss growth rate in response to past temperature increases suggest that terrestrial ecosystems of the Antarctic Peninsula will continue to experience rapid change during future warmings.

“Temperature increases over roughly the past half century on the Antarctic Peninsula have had a dramatic effect on moss banks growing in the region, with rapid increases in growth rates and microbial activity,” Dan Charman, who led the research, said in a statement. “If this continues, and with increasing amounts of ice-free land from continued glacier retreat, the Antarctic Peninsula will be a much greener place in the future.”

The researchers will continue to examine core records that date back more than 1,000 years with the goal that they can explore the impact of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems before human-caused warmings.

The study was published in Current Biology.

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