Feeds

Boffins, tourists threaten Antarctica with alien invasion

'Worrying' risk of little green lifeforms settling

High performance access to file storage

Ice-loving boffins and tourists are wrecking the Antarctic by effectively busing in lifeforms alien to the cold continent, according to a new study.

Scientists who journey to the ice-bound land for research purposes, and the growing number of sightseers heading for the South Pole, are carrying with them seeds of foreign plants that are taking root in the once pristine landscape.

As the coldest and driest continent on the planet, Antarctica has a unique ecosystem, which could now be under threat from this alien invasion.

Eco-boffin Steven Chown, from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, led the study, which hoovered the clothes, shoes, bags and other gear of 853 people who went to the continent during the Antarctic summer of 2007 to 2008.

These folks represent about two per cent of the total number of visitors, but at least 2,600 seeds and other plant bits were found to have hitched a ride to the ice-free landing spots where they rocked up in Antarctica.

Scientists carried more seeds than tourists, averaging six each, but although globetrotters are only giving a lift to two to three seeds each, there are far more of them than the boffins. Annually there are about 33,000 holidaymakers hitting the Antarctic peninsula, compared to roughly 7,000 scientists.

Since the tourists and researchers generally had to come through other cold parts of the world to get to Antarctica, half of these seeds and plant bits on their clothes were capable of surviving in extreme climates, a situation Prof Chown described as "worrying".

As the seeds are already adapted to cold weather and with the expected effects of climate change on the region over the next century, as projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the chance that these plants will take root is rising.

"With climate change, areas such as the Antarctic Peninsula, Ross Sea and the East Antarctic coastal regions will become high-risk areas because it is easier for plants to survive and establish on ice-free ground in these sectors,” Prof Chown said.

Several invasive species have already started growing on the Western Antarctic Peninsula, including Poa annua aka annual bluegrass.

"We are convinced that this study will provide the explicit evidence required for future management decisions aimed at conserving Antarctica,” he added.

“As it is an increasingly popular tourist destination and a place to undertake research, we need more stringent measures to reduce the risk of seeds from all over the world being transported to the area and ultimately becoming invasive.”

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal here [PDF], notes: "Invasive alien species are among the primary causes of biodiversity change globally, with the risks thereof broadly understood for most regions of the world. They are similarly thought to be among the most significant conservation threats to Antarctica, especially as climate change proceeds in the region." ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Saturn spotted spawning new FEMTO-MOON
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
India's GPS alternative launches second satellite
Closed satnav system due to have all seven birds aloft by 2016
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.