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Ice Age Weeds

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Kelp off the coast of Scotland, Ireland and France has survived since the last ice age, around 16,000 years ago, says a new study. Kelp is a type of large, brown seaweed that grows in shallow, nutrient-rich saltwater near coastal fronts around the world.

Experts from Heriot-Watt University’s Orkney campus analysed the genetic composition of oarweed from 14 areas across the northern Atlantic Ocean. They found three distinct genetic clusters. Now scientists are studying how the marine plant life survives extreme changes in climate. The research team, based in Portugal and France, found one distinct genetic cluster along the eastern seaboard of Canada and the US. Another was discovered in central and northern Europe and a third compact population around Brittany.

Kelp has a critical role in the Atlantic. So knowing what affects its distribution and survival over time and how sensitive it is to change is important. Further study can help in understanding how they compensate for predictable contractions at warmer limits as the modern climatic crisis unfolds.

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