Scientists working in the Mediterranean recently discovered what is thought to be the oldest living species on Earth: a patch of giant seagrass, Posidonia oceanic, growing in underwater meadows that span more than 2,000 miles between Spain to Cyprus.
Australian scientists sequenced the DNA of samples of the giant seagrass and found that it was most likely to be around 100,000 years-old, although it could be up to 200,000 years-old. If you were able to dig up the entire meadow of seagrass, it would weigh more than 6,000 tons.
The research, recently published in PLoS One, means that this ancient seagrass trumps what was previously believed to be the world’s oldest living thing: a Tasmanian plant that is believed to be 43,000 years old.
The seagrass has the ability to generate clones of itself, and send them out as satellites. Using this method, the grass can slowly grow to cover vast areas of the ocean floor.
Researchers say that these findings call for further research on these life history traits associated with clonality, considering their possible ecological and evolutionary implications, but that may not be possible.
Unfortunately, coastal development (like offshore drilling) and climate change could spell the end of this resilient plant species.
“The seagrass in the Mediterranean is already in clear decline due to shoreline construction and declining water quality and this decline has been exacerbated by climate change,” Prof. Carlos Duarte, from the University of Western Australia, told the Telegraph. ”As the water warms, the organisms move slowly to higher altitudes. The Mediterranean is locked to the north by the European continent. They cannot move. The outlook is very bad.”
Image Credit: Flickr – NOAA Photo Library