The secret life of caves

Now, a team of scientists has revealed evidence that animals and plants might exist in these extensive cave systems that have been hollowed out around Mt Erebus on Antarctica’s Ross Island, the home of New Zealand’s Scott Base.

There are more than 15 volcanoes throughout Antarctica that are either known to be now active or show evidence of recent activity. “There’s light near the cave mouths, and light filters deeper into some caves where the overlying ice is thin”. Well, recently, according to a new study, a team of Australian researchers has discovered that some secret and unknown species of plants and animals might be living inside those warm caves and if it is true, then this can indeed be a very soothing and cosy environment to have.

Antarctica contains extensive cave systems carved out by steam released through volcanoes that are buried under ice.

“Despite recent advances in our broad understanding of Antarctic biodiversity, we still know little about life in the continent’s subglacial cave systems, which may harbor diverse and complex communities”, they wrote.

The samples of DNA from plants and animals collected by the scientists were from the caves at Mount Erebus which is one of the biggest volcanoes on Antarctica and it is speculated that the same can be found at other locations of the continent as well. Larger animals or plant forms haven’t been yet found inside these caves but according to the study, just because they haven’t been found yet doesn’t mean they do not exist and it’s just a matter of time before they are found as these caves are spread far and wide and Antarctica houses a lot of volcanoes which could each carry their own chain of caves down below.

Although there is no proof that the creatures still live in the caves today, the researchers plan to do a more extensive search. “The results from this study give us a tantalising glimpse of what might live beneath the ice in Antarctica-there might even be new species of animals and plants”, Fraser said.

“It can be really warm inside the caves-up to 25 degrees Celsius (77F) in some caves”, Ceidwen Fraser, lead researcher on the project, said in a statement.

Microorganisms like bacteria and fungi have previously lived in the caves.

If living organisms indeed exist there, “it opens the door to an exciting new world”, Prof Laurie Connell, a co-researcher from the University of ME, said.

It’s possible that there are many areas where subsurface volcanoes have blasted out space and heat to support organisms. Although these areas are trapped under huge Antarctic Glaciers, those caves might provide with ideal temperatures for a comfortable environment with a flawless blend of temperature as said by the researchers.

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