, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 609-613,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 31 Oct 2010

The persistence of the snow petrel (Pagodroma nivea) in Dronning Maud Land (Antarctica) for over 37,000 years


Two samples of snow petrel Pagodroma nivea mumiyo (solidified stomach oil) from Heimefrontfjella (74°34′36″S, 11°13′24″W) in Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica, were radiocarbon dated at 37,400 ± 1,500 and 3,120 ± 70 years old (dates are corrected for the ‘reservoir effect’). The age of the older sample provides further evidence that snow petrel colonies have existed in the mountain peaks of Dronning Maud Land since before the last glacial maximum (approx. 20,000–16,000 years ago). This finding also pushes back the estimated timing of establishment of snow petrel breeding colonies in this part of the continent by several thousand years. The variation in the accumulation rates of these two samples (1.6 and 35.2 mm per millennium, respectively) supports previous observations that mumiyo accumulation rates are highly variable and probably relate to site-specific factors affecting accumulation and degradation of the oil. Studies that help us understand historical bird population distributions in continental Antarctica can significantly aid the development and refinement of models that explain glacial advancement and retreat, the relationship between sea ice and population viability and, perhaps, predict species responses to future climate shifts.