Study reveals tropical rainforests covered much of Antarctica 90 million years ago, during time of the Dinosaurs

Study reveals tropical rainforests covered much of Antarctica 90 million years ago, during time of the Dinosaurs

Antarctica is arguably one of the most barren, extreme environments on the planet, with only one permanent terrestrial resident – the Emperor penguin. However, wind the clock back 90 million years, and the continent was far from a frozen wasteland. New evidence has suggested that this icy continent was largely covered in tropical swamp forest, during the time of the Dinosaurs.


The cretaceous period, which spanned from approximately 145 to 66 million years ago, was a very warm period in earth’s history, with an almost worldwide greenhouse climate, and an abundance of vegetation and tropical forests. Antarctica at this time was mostly covered in a swampy, tropical forest and there were no glaciers at the south pole.

An artist’s impression of the ancient swamp forests of Antarctica (© James McKay)


Scientists at the Alfred Wegener institute, Germany, made this discovery by analysing sediment cores drilled from the seafloor in West Antarctica. These cores show a glimpse of the past environment in Antarctica, with sediments nearer to the bottom of the core representing older geological time. At three metres down on the core, representing the late cretaceous period, the sediment composition changed drastically, composed mainly of a coal-like material, soil, roots and pollen. The team identified over 65 types of plant material, indicating the presence of an ancient conifer forest.

The ancient Antarctic forests would have been dominated by cycad plants such as this one (© J. Dazley)


So, what exactly lived in these forests? The forests would have likely been very similar in plant structure to some of the forests in modern-day New Zealand, dominated by towering tree ferns, cycads and coniferous trees. At this time in history, flowering plants had only recently evolved so were likely rare in these forests. Biogeochemical evidence from the sediment cores also revealed that microscopic photosynthetic life such as algae and cyanobacteria were common in warm lakes and rivers.

Australovenator was one of several carnivorous dinosaurs to roam prehistoric Antarctica (© L. Xing)


These forests were dominated by a variety of dinosaur species, which filled many of the ecological roles of forest ecosystems today. There were giant herbivorous dinosaurs such as the long necked Austrosaurus, and Muttaburrasaurus, a close relative of the Iguanadon, whose remains are commonly found on the Isle of Wight. There were also carnivorous dinosaurs such as Cryolophosaurus and Australovenator, and the tiny herbivorous Leaellynasaura, which likely lived in small groups in the forest. Primitive mammals shared the forests with the dinosaurs; they were furry, egg laying species which were likely similar to modern echidnas and platypus. It is also known that the river networks around these forests were home to a giant salamander-like amphibian called Koolasuchus, belonging to an ancient lineage of animals over 250 million years old.

The giant amphibian Koolasuchus was one of the last surviving of it’s kind, and probably fed on smaller dinosaurs (© BBC)


The discovery of these polar forests is not only an exciting advance for palaeontology, but also shows us how key carbon dioxide levels are in the shaping of an environment. It is known that the tropical climate during the cretaceous period could have only been possible if carbon dioxide levels were much higher than today, so this discovery could give an insight into the future environmental implications of increased carbon dioxide levels in the near future.

Hengistbury Head Garden Competition

Win your own garden BioBlitz!

Alongside the 2018 Great Wildlife Expedition (at Hengistbury Head on June 9th), Hengistbury Head are offering you the chance to have a BioBlitz in your own garden!

The winner of our Great Wildlife Garden Competition will have a team of experts take over their outdoor space on June 16th.

Using detectors, hand lenses and lots of books, the team will identify bats, mammals, moths, birds and plants that live in, or visit your garden. You will be able to spend time with the team and learn the difference between the species that thrive on the work you have done to make your garden a place for nature.

The team will show you where to go to record your finds, adding these species to Bournemouth’s wildlife map. There will also be a talented local film maker who will capture the day, the activities and the excitement of identifying the plants and creatures that live in your garden.

To enter, use the entry form to tell us about your garden, your household, and any wildlife that you have seen in, or nearby, your garden. Please send your entry via email: hengistbury.head@bournemouth.gov.uk

Closing date: 30th April 2018 (Winner will be chosen by the Hengistbury Head Ranger team)

Terms and conditions apply – see poster for details.

PHSG 2nd Annual Conference: Poole Harbour Environment and Econmics

PHSG Marine Protected Areas Conference 2017

‘Poole Harbour provides both for a diverse ecology and a productive maritime economy. The Harbour is exceptional in the extent to which it illustrates the interface between environment and economics in the coastal zones of North West Europe. Positioned at the eastern end of the “Jurassic Coast” World Heritage Site, the entire Harbour has various conservation designations while at the same time providing for commercial shipping, motor yacht manufacture, fishing & aquaculture, tourism, a military base, and a range of other significant maritime industries. It also lies over an oil field, receives effluent from both a large conurbation and an agricultural catchment, and supports a variety of recreational activities, not least sailing and angling. These features along with the intensity with which they interact make Poole Harbour a powerful case study for the elucidation of sustainable development in practice.

Thirteen years ago the Poole Harbour Study Group held a conference which resulted in the book The Ecology of Poole Harbour. This 2018 conference aims to expand the scope of that and last year’s Marine Protected Areas conference, by examining the relationship between the environment and the economy which it supports.

The conference is part of the Poole Maritime Festival and among the events during the day Borough of Poole council will present key findings from their forthcoming marine supply chain mapping report.

Presentations (15 minutes), mini-presentations (3 minutes) and posters may examine any aspect of the Harbour environment and/or its maritime economy. Particularly welcome are contributions which engage with the interactions between the two, whether from business, policy, or conservation perspectives. Presentations may also cover aspects of the river catchment or Poole Bay which have direct implications for the Harbour itself. Contributions subsequently written up will be published in proceedings

For further general information please contact the Conference Secretary Dr Alice Hall A.Hall@bournemouth.ac.uk.

To submit, a presentation or poster proposal, please send a 50 word summary to PHSG Chair, John Humphreys (email jhc@jhc.co), who would also be happy to provide advice on any early stage presentation idea.

Poole Harbour Study Group has been encouraging and disseminating objective research on Poole Harbour for over twenty-five years. Members include all the main statutory organisations along with universities, NGOs and commercial enterprises.’

(Environment Agency, Dorset Wildlife Trust, IFCA, Phc)  

Bittern Numbers Booming In The UK

The Common Bittern, Botaurus stellaris, a shy, secretive relative of the heron, was once extinct in the UK, however the bird has made a massive comeback over the years. Bittern numbers are now at their highest recorded numbers in the UK.

The bittern lives mostly in reed beds and is rarely seen due to the superbly camouflaged streaked plumage, which blends perfectly with the environment. However, the male’s booming call can be used to identify the presence of bitterns, and so researchers have been able to count these birds.

This year, the breeding population has been at it’s highest since the 1800s, with 140 singing males seen, compared to 11 in 1997. Somerset has the largest bittern population, with 20 males located at Ham Wall nature reserve,

According to the RSPB, one factor contributing to UK population increase in bitterns is due to restoration of quarries, which has helped bitterns to thrive. The bittern is still on the RSPB’s red list, but the development of these restored quarries is expected to increase the UK’S bittern population in the future.

Image credit: Helen Briggs