Research ArticleECOLOGY

Seabird establishment during regional cooling drove a terrestrial ecosystem shift 5000 years ago

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Science Advances  23 Oct 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 43, eabb2788
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abb2788

Abstract

The coastal tussac (Poa flabellata) grasslands of the Falkland Islands are a critical seabird breeding habitat but have been drastically reduced by grazing and erosion. Meanwhile, the sensitivity of seabirds and tussac to climate change is unknown because of a lack of long-term records in the South Atlantic. Our 14,000-year multiproxy record reveals an ecosystem state shift following seabird establishment 5000 years ago, as marine-derived nutrients from guano facilitated tussac establishment, peat productivity, and increased fire. Seabird arrival coincided with regional cooling, suggesting that the Falkland Islands are a cold-climate refugium. Conservation efforts focusing on tussac restoration should include this terrestrial-marine linkage, although a warming Southern Ocean calls into question the long-term viability of the Falkland Islands as habitat for low-latitude seabirds.

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