A single seed from 4,500 years ago spread to form the plant that has developed resilience to recover from an extreme climate event
The world’s largest known plant that has grown underwater for thousands of years has been found by scientists who made the discovery only after realising they mistook it for a giant underwater meadow.
The coverage area of the plant could possibly span 200 sq km (77 sq miles) of ribbon weed meadows, which is an area slightly larger than the city of Glasgow, more than three times the size of Manhattan island or an area the size of 20,000 rugby fields.
The plant itself is a single clone of the Posidonia australis seagrass that is 180km long, making it the largest known example of a clone in any environment on earth, said scientists.
The study detailing the discovery made by researchers from the University of Western Australia was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B op Woensdag.
The massive plant was found off the western coast of Australië.
The accidental discovery of the seagrass is peaking the curiosity of scientists across the world.
The plant is believed to have spread from a single seed about 4,500 jare terug.
The massive seagrass was found at Shark Bay, a World Heritage site located off the coastal Carnarvon town in the Western Australia state.
The site is the meeting point of three major climatic regions and is home to five of 26 species of endangered Australian mammals, according to the Australian government.
Researchers said they stumbled upon the plant by accident through genetic testing.
They found what they always believed was a giant seagrass meadow actually turned out to be a single massive P australis polyploid clone.
Polyploidy is a feature usually common in plants that allows them to have more than one pair of chromosomes.
The new polyploid clone is believed to have formed in shallow waters after the inundation of the Shark Bay area less than 8,500 years ago and researchers said it likely subsequently expanded via vegetative growth into newly submerged habitats.
“We were quite surprised when we had a good look at the data and it seemed to indicate that everything belonged to the one plant,” evolutionary biologist and study co-author Elizabeth Sinclair, from the University of Western Australia, told ABC Australia.
Apart from the unusual growth of the plant, researchers said its ability to sustain for thousands of years also suggests it has developed resilience to recover from an extreme climate event via vegetative growth.
“Exactly how the polyploid clone varies its response to local environmental conditions is unknown and the subject of further research, but its relative abundance suggests that it has evolved a resilience to variable and often extreme conditions that enable it to persist now and into the future,” the researchers said.