Warming will encourage hardy vegetation to move north, study says

Coming soon: migratory Arctic plants


Hardy Arctic plants, such as avens, saxifrage and aqpiks, are expected to spread further north as global temperatures rise.

Arctic plants are by nature robust and "highly mobile," says new research, which analyzed the genetic makeup of nine flowering plants commonly found on Norway's Svalbard Islands.

Scientists believe these seeds were carried by wind and drifting sea ice, drift wood, sea birds and mammals, nearly 1,000 kilometres north of Norway.

The scientists' findings suggest seeds can flourish in a new place if they find a suitable habitat.

When conditions warmed after the end of the last ice age 20,000 years ago, plants travelled from as far as Greenland and northwest Russia to the Svalbards.

Northwestern Russia and Greenland are still connected to islands by way of sea ice during the winter.

"Bank erosion along the Russian rivers routinely results in logs and other debris finding their way onto drifting sea ice, which reaches Svalbard by means of surface currents," says a paper called "Frequent Long-distance Plant Colonization in the Changing Arctic" in the June 15 edition of the journal Science.

The team of French and Norwegian scientists looked at more than 4,400 plants from nine flowering plant species, which now grow on the Svalbard Islands. These included plants which are also commonly found in the Eastern Arctic, such as saxifrage, aqpiks, heather and avens.

"Climate change is expected to cause the distribution area of many plant species to shift northwards in the Northern Hemi­sphere," states the paper.

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