Lemmings the 'unsung heroes' of environment
Published 19/11/2011 | 05:00
LEMMINGS could turn out to be unsung heroes of the Earth's climate, it emerged yesterday.
While governments fail to act decisively on carbon emissions, the Arctic rodents with legendary suicidal tendencies are getting on with the job of keeping their environment green.
By doing so, they may be helping to protect the Earth from global warming, scientists believe. A US study found that when lemmings were absent, the Arctic tundra was likely to be more barren and covered in lichens and moss.
Where lemmings live, on the other hand, there is a surprising increase in grass and sedge.
As well as providing the animals with food, the plants act as an important "sink", soaking up carbon from the atmosphere.
One reason for the trend may be the waste products of large numbers of lemmings fertilising the soil, say the researchers.
Warmer temperatures are promoting the growth of grasses and shrubs, which are helping to make large areas of the Arctic more habitable.
Scientists still do not know what the net effects of this greening might be on climate.
Dr David Johnson, from the University of Texas, said: "Our paper confirms that we really need to be careful attributing the greening of the Arctic to global warming alone."