Washington, August 4 (ANI): In a new study, scientists have found that elephant seals traveled surprisingly far when ice retreated from part of the Antarctic mainland about 7500 years ago, indicating that the animals may be able to take advantage of emerging habitat resulting from climate change.
According to a report in ABC Science, researchers found that despite their rapid relocation, the enormous animals multiplied remarkably quickly, and when the ice returned a few thousand years later, they returned to their original habitat 2500 kilometers away.
"The results suggest that a highly mobile species like the southern elephant seal may be able to take advantage of emerging habitat resulting from climate change," said Dr Mark de Bruyn, a molecular ecologist at Bangor University in the United Kingdom.
"Of course, other less mobile species may not be able to respond in a similar way, and could be detrimentally affected. This in no way suggests global warming is a good thing," he added.
De Bruyn's study follows on the heels of the discovery, a few years ago, of a large amount of elephant seal hair, skin and even mummies on Antarctica's Victoria Land Coast, which borders the Ross Sea.
De Bruyn wondered if a study of the remains could reveal more details not just about this seal colony, but also about the history of climate in the region.
Elephant seals require open water for breeding, therefore the region's climate must have been different compared to today.
Along with colleagues, de Bruyn dated and analyzed more than 200 samples of mitochondrial DNA, which is passed on only from mothers to their offspring, but is more abundant in animal cells than nuclear DNA, which comes from both parents.
Their findings support previous geological evidence that the region warmed up between 8000 and 7500 years ago.
When that happened, elephant seals capitalized on the newly opened habitat by migrating to the Victoria Land Coast from their nearest breeding site on Macquarie Island, where the animals still live today.
As soon as they settled in, the elephant seals made themselves at home.
A high amount of genetic diversity in the now-extinct population showed that the population grew rapidly in just a few generations.
Then, about 1000 years ago, when the ice returned, the seals abandoned the site. Some actually returned to the source of their ancestors on Macquarie Island.
"This tells us that populations can respond to changes in the environment over pretty short periods of time," said Simon Ho, an evolutionary biologist at the Australian National University in Canberra. (ANI)