Poa pratensis L., current status of the longest-established non-native vascular plant in the Antarctic

Abstract

A single colony of the non-native grass Poa pratensis L., which was introduced inadvertently to Cierva Point, Antarctic Peninsula, during the 1954–1955 season, was still present during a survey in February 2012, making it the longest surviving non-native vascular plant colony known in Antarctica. Since 1991, the grass cover has roughly tripled in size, with an annual increase in area of approximately 0.016 m2, and an estimated maximum radial growth rate of 1.43 cm y−1. However, it remains restricted to the original site of introduction and its immediate surroundings (c. 1 m2). Annual flowering of the plants occurred during the 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 seasons; however, there has been no seed production and only incomplete development of the sexual structures. Current environmental conditions, including low temperatures, may inhibit sexual reproduction. Lack of effective vegetative dispersal may be influenced by the low level of human activity at the site, which limits opportunities for human-mediated dispersal. Although P. pratensis has existed at Cierva Point for almost 60 years, it has not yet become invasive. Scenarios for the potential future development of the species in Antarctica and the associated negative impacts upon the native vegetation from competition are discussed in the context of regional climate change. Finally, we describe the environmental risk presented by P. pratensis and argue that this non-native species should be eradicated as soon as possible in accordance with the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.

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Acknowledgments

This survey was part of MIDAH CTM2010-11013 project financed by the Spanish National Polar Programme. We thank the BIO Las Palmas crew for safe transport to the field site under poor weather conditions, the staff of the Argentine Base Primavera for their support and hospitality and Miguel Angel de Pablo and Antonio Molina for helping with the field survey. We also thank Steve Colwell and Magdalena Biszczuk for the provision of meteorological data and mapping support, respectively. James Bockheim is also thanked for providing temperature records from Cierva Point. Finally we thank the anonymous reviewers for their useful and thought-provoking comments. This paper is a contribution to the SCAR EBA (Evolution and Biodiversity in Antarctica) research programme and the British Antarctic Survey’s Polar Science for Planet Earth core programme EO-LTMS (Environment Office—Long-Term Monitoring and Survey).

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Correspondence to Luis R. Pertierra.

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Pertierra, L.R., Lara, F., Benayas, J. et al. Poa pratensis L., current status of the longest-established non-native vascular plant in the Antarctic. Polar Biol 36, 1473–1481 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-013-1367-8

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Keywords

  • Smooth meadow-grass
  • Flowering
  • Summer temperatures
  • Dispersal agents
  • Eradication
  • Alien