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Fuegian plants in Antarctica: natural or anthropogenically assisted immigrants?


Two species of flowering plant of Fuegian montane provenance have been discovered on Deception Island in the maritime Antarctic, 950 km south of South America. Four individuals of Nassauvia magellanica and one of Gamochaeta nivalis (both Asteraceae) are growing robustly and in close proximity of each other on dry ash and scoria soil near a ruined whaling station which, in recent years, has been frequently visited by large numbers of ship-borne tourists. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty and the Management Plan for the island, designated an Antarctic Specially Managed Area, provide strict regulations for the conduct of visitors to this site and precautions against the accidental introduction of non-indigenous species. While their establishment on this remote volcanic island may have been anthropogenically mediated, natural immigration cannot be ruled out as both species produce seed adapted for wind-dispersal in their native Tierra del Fuego. The ecological consequences if one or both of these aliens spreads beyond their present restricted location are considered. While determined efforts are being made to implement rigorous biosecurity measures in Antarctica, current Antarctic Treaty policy on dealing with colonizing invasive alien species is indecisive and requires urgent action and clear recommendations.

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M.R. wishes to thank Quark Expeditions for the opportunity to travel to Antarctica as Ornithologist on board their ships during the 2008–2009 austral summer. We are also indebted to Drs. Rod Downie, Peter Convey and Kevin Hughes, British Antarctic Survey, and to two anonymous referees for reviewing and improving the text.

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Correspondence to Ronald I. Lewis Smith.

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Lewis Smith, R.I., Richardson, M. Fuegian plants in Antarctica: natural or anthropogenically assisted immigrants?. Biol Invasions 13, 1–5 (2011).

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  • Nassauvia magellanica
  • Gamochaeta nivalis
  • Alien or natural immigrant
  • Biosecurity
  • Deception Island
  • Antarctica