• Tristan H

Pleistocene Park

Pleistocene Park

Created by Sergev Zimov, an arctic biologist who focuses on arctic ecosystems, Pleistocene park aims to mimic mammoth steppes which once covered almost all of Russia and europe. Located deep in Siberia, it serves as both a nature preserve and research station. Pleistocene park gives insight to the mammoth steppe ecosystem's role as both a biodiversity hotspot and an enormous carbon sink. This research is actively being used to help fight the current climate crisis, notably to prevent the thawing of permafrost.

Mammoth Steppe Ecosystem

The mammoth steppe was a productive grassland covering practically all of Northern Asia and Europe. What made this ecosystem stand out was the massive animals which inhabited it, from saber tooth tigers, to wooly mammoths, to deer with antler over 3 meters across. Most animals we associate with the ice age all inhabited the mammoth steppe. Unfortunately, about 10,000-12,000 years ago this ecosystem began to collapse and give way to what is now mostly boreal forests. There are still small pockets of land that have a similar ecosystem to the mammoth steppe, though they lack most of the megafauna it occupied.

Boreal Forest

Currently, the majority of the land once occupied by the mammoth steppe is now evergreen pine forest. Making it the most abundant type of forest in the world. However, as an ecosystem, it does not compare to the mammoth steppe in both biodiversity and carbon capture. It lacks biodiversity as conifer trees (pine trees) do not feed a lot of animals. Conifer trees kill out all competition by shedding their acidic pine needles which prevent smaller shrubs and other trees from growing amongst them, also reducing the biodiversity of the ecosystem. Another downside is that the trees reduce the albedo; the amount of sun reflected by the ground. As a result more of the sun’s thermal energy is captured, further warming the region. The main concern with this temperature change is that it is beginning to cause the permafrost to melt.

Preventing the Melting of Permafrost

Currently, a large portion of arctic land is covered in ground which is frozen all year around, however due to climate change lots of permafrost is melting. What is worrying is that massive amounts of methane are locked up in this permafrost. As this permafrost melts, this methane will begin to be released in zimov’s studies that have shown it as boreal forest. A large portion of the research in Pleistocene park aims to find solutions to preventing the thawing of the permafrost. One such experiment was returning animals, in an attempt to recreate the grassland.

Returning the Fauna

Like the mammoth steppe ecosystem, practically all the megafauna are extinct. However, there are other still extant grassland animals which play the same roles as the extinct megafauna. Different species of the fauna have been brought to the outpost; Plains bison, Yaks and Yakutian horse, to name a few. These animals have felled the trees and made way for grasslands, which has lowered the albedo. Another interesting result was that as these animals compacted the snow, the ground was less insulated during winter. This meant it got significantly colder, helping it maintain its frozen state during the summer months. However, the ecosystem will never have the now extinct megafauna which were vital to the ecosystem, or will it? One startup aims to bring the wooly mammoth. This would be the first instance in which humans have brought back an extinct animal. By returning the extinct fauna back to the ecosystem, humans could bring back an ecosystem, which they likely had a role in destroying.

One step in the right direction

This is just one instance of the many steps that can be taken to mitigate the effects of climate change. Restoring productive and resilient ecosystems should be at the forefront of our climate action plan. By restoring the ecosystem, we can both absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses as well as reverse the worst effects of climate change; habitat destruction. Hopefully this is just the beginning of many steps against the threats of climate change.