, Volume 34, Issue 11, pp 1629-1641
Date: 27 Jul 2011

Antarctic terrestrial biodiversity in a changing world

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Abstract

Recent analyses of Antarctic terrestrial biodiversity data, in combination with molecular biological studies, have created a new paradigm that long-term persistence and regional isolation are general features of most of the major groups of Antarctic terrestrial biota, overturning the previously widely assumed view of a generally recent colonisation history. This paradigm, as well as incorporating a new and much longer timescale in which to consider the evolution and adaptation of Antarctic terrestrial biota, opens important new cross-disciplinary linkages with geologists and glaciologists seeking to unravel the history of the continent itself. This unique biota now faces the twin challenges of responding to the complex processes of climate change facing some parts of the continent, and the direct impacts associated with human occupation and activity. In many instances, this biota is likely to benefit, initially at least, from the current environmental changes, and there is an expectation of increased production, biomass, population size, community complexity, and colonisation. However, the impacts of climate change may themselves be outweighed by other, direct, impacts of human activities, and in particular, the introduction of non-indigenous organisms from which until recently the terrestrial ecosystems of the continent have been protected. The Antarctic research community and those responsible for governance under the Antarctic treaty system are faced with the pressing challenges of (1) ensuring there is sufficient baseline monitoring and survey activity to enable identification of these changes, however caused and (2) ensuring that effective operational management and biosecurity procedures are in place to minimise the threat from anthropogenic activities.

This article is an invited contribution on Global Tipping Points (Global Change and Antarctic Terrestrial Biodiversity) and part of the SCAR EBA programme. I. Hogg and D. Wall (Guest Editors).