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Day 3 - Terrestrial ecosystems

Title: Monitoring invasion trends in the Antarctic

Presenter: Melodie McGeoch

Monash University

Authors: Melodie A. McGeoch1, Justine Shaw2,3, AleksTerauds2, Jennifer A. Lee4, Steven L. Chown1

1 - Monash University, Melbourne, School of Biological Sciences, Clayton VIC 3800 Australia,,

2 - Australian Antarctic Division, Hobart, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 203 Channel Highway, Kingston, Tasmania 7050,,

3 - Environmental Decision Group, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD, 4072, Australia

4 - Government of South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands, Stanley, Government House, Falkland Islands,


Biological invasions are one of the primary environmental threats to the Antarctic. The Southern Ocean Islands have a long history of invasion. Ice free areas of the Antarctic Continent host far fewer alien species, but are predicted to be increasingly vulnerable to invasion under warming climate and increased human activity. Although there has been significant recent focus on the invasion of the Antarctic, there is currently no system in place for systematically tracking trends in invasion of the region. Here we present a framework and baseline for monitoring trends in biological invasion in the region, the impact of invasive species and policy and management interventions. We model the approach on the Global Invasive Alien Species Indicator using a driver-pressure-state-response framework, and using relevant indicators we report on current status. Information relevant to monitoring trends in biological invasions in the Antarctic is incomplete and until now has not been collated for this purpose. Knowledge and reporting of the occurrence, distribution and impact of alien taxa, as well as information on the size of pathways of introduction and prevention and control efforts are patchy. Most importantly no harmonised system is in place for the generation, collation and evidence-based reporting of trends and management effectiveness. Effective prevention and management of biological invasion in the Antarctic will require monitoring and reporting of the status and trends in invasion by all nations with activities in the region via a system of monitoring and reporting as we propose here.

Title: Investigation of Antarctic moss beds using high spatial resolution imaging spectroscopy

Presenter: Zbynìk Malenovský

School of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania

Authors: Zbynìk Malenovský1, Arko Lucieer1, Sharon Robinson2, Tony Veness1, Darren Turner1

1 - School of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 76, Hobart 7001, Australia (

2 - Institute for Conservation Biology, University of Wollongong, Northfields Avenue, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia (


The most abundant photosynthetically active plants growing along the Antarctic rocky coast are mosses of three species: Schistidium antarctici, Ceratodon purpureus, and Bryum pseudotriquetrum. Recent changes in temperature, wind speed and stratospheric ozone are stimulating faster evaporation, which in turn influences moss growth rate, health state and spatial abundance. These environmental reactions make moss beds an ideal bio-indicator of Antarctic climate change. The very short growing season, lasting only about three months, requires a time efficient, easily deployable and spatially resolved method for monitoring Antarctic moss beds. Therefore, we used ground and/or low-altitude airborne imaging spectroscopy (also called ‘hyperspectral’ remote sensing) to investigate the actual spatial extent and physiological health state of moss turfs in the surroundings of the Australian Antarctic station Casey (Windmill Islands). Images of moss beds containing hundreds of narrow spectral bands between 399 and 998 nm were acquired with a Mini-Hyperspec spectroradiometer (Headwall Inc., USA) from the ground and from a remotely controlled multi-rotor helicopter (called the ‘OktoKopter’) during the Antarctic summer 2013. The specific optical vegetation indices computed from acquired hyperspectral data allowed automatic spatial separation of moss turfs from the rocky surrounding, but also provided us with qualitative maps of actual moss physiological state (vigour) and total moss chlorophyll content (i.e. indicator of local environmental stress). These results show that high spatial resolution airborne imaging spectroscopy of Antarctic mosses is an efficient spatially explicit approach suitable for regular monitoring of climate change impacts in Antarctica.

Title: Establishing a long term network for monitoring vegetation change in Antarctica

Presenter: Lars Brabyn

University of Waikato

Authors: Lars Brabyn1, Glen Stichbury1, Ceisha Poirot2, T.G. Allan Green1, Craig Cary1, Leopoldo G. Sancho3

1 - University of Waikato, Hamilton, NZ,,,,

2 - Antarctica New Zealand, Christchurch, NZ,

3 - University of Madrid, Spain,


The current growth rate of lichens in the Dry Valleys is estimated to be 0.01 mm per year, but this is predicted to dramatically increase with climate change. To understand such a biological response to climate change and support management decisions, it is important to establish baseline data for long term monitoring that is internationally networked across the Antarctic continent. We have tested several techniques that analyse vegetation change at a range of scales. Lichen growth rates, measured using image analysis functions within GIS, provide a quantitative method that is inexpensive and easily reproducible. Moss and algae growth can be estimated using 1m2 quadrats, but relatively rapid shrinkage and expansion relating to fluctuating moisture levels means that it is only practical to use qualitative visual assessments. Vegetation flush areas can also be mapped in GIS using aerial photography. These techniques require measurements, at the very least, over three different time periods to detect changes in growth rates. In addition to monitoring growth rates, specialised equipment (PAM fluorometer) is being used to study the time periods in which plants are actively photosynthesising in Antarctica. This data is being collected and monitored in real time using satellite communication. We have established baseline GIS data at three Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPA); Cape Hallett (ASPA 106), Botany Bay (ASPA 154), and Canada Glacier (ASPA 131). A working paper was submitted to the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP) (ATCM XXXV/CEPXV, WP20) inviting the CEP to consider the use of GIS as a method for monitoring vegetation changes. The Committee agreed to establish a network of sites for monitoring species distribution and abundance with priority afforded to ASPAs and recognised the value of applying consistent methodologies for comparisons between sites continent wide (CEP XV Final Report, ATCM XXXV).

Title: Environmental influences on microbial mat biogeography in perennially ice-covered Lake Fryxell, Antarctica

Presenter: Alex Forrest

Australian Maritime College

Authors: Mackey T1, Hawes I2, Forrest A3, Sumner D1, Jungblut A4, Doran P5

1 - University of California-Davis

2 - University of Canterbury

3 - Australian Maritime College

4 - Natural History Museum of London

5 - University of Illinois at Chicago


Perennially ice-covered Lake Fryxell (Taylor Valley, South Victoria Land, Antarctica) has high benthic productivity. It contains photosynthetic microbial mats structured by physical parameters such as lake level, which influences irradiance, and density gradients, which stabilize chemical gradients. Lake level and density structure are expected to vary with ongoing climate change, affecting benthic mats. Here, we report the depth distribution of variable mat textures defined by growth form and colour.

Mat textures change with depth at a scale of 10cm or finer, and those changes correlate strongly with environmental gradients. Irradiance declined from 0.8% of surface values immediately below the ice to 0.1% at 10.6 m depth, and O2 concentrations declined from 20 mg/L at 8.8 m to undetectable at 9.8 m depth. Mats at 8.8 m had a brown-pigmented surface with cm-scale peaks and ridges. Green ridged mats emerged below 9.6 m and transitioned to flat mat at ~9.7 m depth. By 10.0 m only flat gold mats were present, and they transitioned to grey flocculent mat by 10.4 m. Ongoing molecular analyses will provide more insights into community composition and ecosystem function with depth.

Co-variation of mat type with light and water chemistry indicates that benthic mat growth is controlled by environmental gradients, which are expected to respond to climate change. Rising lake levels will reduce irradiance and O2 at depth, whereas increased melt water influx may shift chemical gradients. A better definition of benthic mat ecology and physiology will aid predictions of their responses to future climatic changes.

Title: Fertility controls richness but pH controls composition in Arctic and Antarctic fungal and bacterial communities

Presenter: Tristrom Winsley

Australian Antarctic Division

Authors: Steven D. Siciliano 1, Anne S. Palmer2,3, Tristrom Winsley2,4, Eric Lamb5, Andrew Bissett6, Mark V. Brown7, Josie van Dorst8, Belinda C. Ferrari8, Paul Grogan9, Ian Snape2

1 - Department of Soil Science, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, S7N 5A8,

2 - Australian Antarctic Division, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. 203 Channel Highway, Kingston, Tasmania, Australia 7050,,,

3 - ACROSS, School of Chemistry, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 75, Hobart, 7001, Tasmania, Australia

4 - School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2052, Australia

5 - Department of Plant Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, S7N 5A8,

6 - CSIRO Plant Industry, PO Box 1600, Canberra, 2601, Australia,

7 - School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, Evolution and Ecology Research Center, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2052, Australia,

8 - School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2052, Australia,,

9- Department of Biology, Queens University, Kingston, Canada,


Microbial activities are of particular interest in Arctic and Antarctic soils due to the uncertainty surrounding the fate of the vast permafrost reserves and potential to lose unique and vulnerable communities. We identified the richness, evenness and taxonomic composition of fungi and bacteria in 223 Arctic and Antarctic soil samples. We generated multiple alternative structural equation models to identify causal external controls on these communities. Analysing bacterial and fungal data from both poles allowed us to test the suitability of emerging hypotheses concerning drivers of soil microbial communities developed primarily for bacteria and primarily in temperate and tropical systems. Soil fertility was the most important control on richness and evenness, whereas pH was the key controller of structure and phylogenetic divergence. Phosphorus availability was the next most important influence on all facets of the microbial ecosystems. Our results suggest that textural control is indirect and largely mediated through the effect of soil particle size on pH. The role of mineralogy is less clear, with large but inconsistent direct effects and consistent indirect effects through the mediation of phosphorus and pH in the soil ecosystem. The key difference between fungi and bacteria is that fertility plays a much larger role for fungal communities and acidity for bacterial communities. The effects of pH and fertility, determined by soil parent material, on differing aspects of the microbial community explains why microbial communities do not exhibit biogeographical patterns in the same way as plant and animal communities, yet respond to rates of habitat turnover.

Title: Assessing, predicting, and managing physical impacts of human activities on Antarctic ice-free environments

Presenter: Megan Balks

Earth and Ocean Sciences, Science & Engineering, The University of Waikato

Authors: Tanya O’Neill1, Megan Balks1, Jerónimo López-Martinez2, Neil Gilbert3

1 - Earth and Ocean Sciences, Science & Engineering, The University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton, New Zealand,,

2 - Faculty of Sciences, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 28049 Madrid, Spain,

3 - Antarctica New Zealand, Private Bag 4745, Christchurch, New Zealand,


In the 2011/2012 summer over 45 000 people visited Antarctica. Thus an understanding of impacts of human activities on Antarctic environments is important. Antarctic visitors must plan activities to limit adverse impacts on the environment (Annex I and II of the Environmental Protocol) and ensure aesthetic and wilderness values are protected. Thus environmental managers need information regarding potential impacts of activities.

Research into the recovery of impacted sites was undertaken using: field-based visual site and recovery assessments, comparative photo-records, and track counters.

Recovery depended on the intensity of the disturbance, age and characteristics of the parent material, and the environmental conditions of the site. In some instances, such as one-off campsites, the visual impacts associated with widespread trampling are recoverable to pre-disturbance condition in <5 years. In contrast, visible tracks form quickly (after <50 passes) due to the unconsolidated nature of many Ross Sea region surface materials, and remain visible in the landscape for decades. At sites where repeated visits are likely to occur, such as tourist sites and well-used walking tracks, increased usage of formed tracks does not add greatly to impacts. Thus, in areas with intense use, visitors should be encouraged to stay on formed tracks to avoid impacting wider areas. However for one-off or occasional visits, forming of tracks should be avoided to prevent lasting visible impacts.

Our challenge is to use the research to help Environmental Managers make better informed decisions regarding site selection, impact mitigation, and remediation measures for activities in Antarctic terrestrial environments.

Latest news

  • Conference prize winners
    27 Jun 2013

    The Strategic Science in Antarctica conference concluded yesterday and two days of workshops have commenced. Congratulations to those who were awarded prizes for their contributions to the conference.

  • Watch the welcome message from Australia's Environment Minister
    24 Jun 2013

    In a welcome message via video from Canberra, Australia’s Environment Minister, Tony Burke, reflected on the foresight of earlier decision-makers who agreed to set aside an entire continent for scientific research.

  • Last minute information for attendees
    20 Jun 2013

    There's not too long to wait until the start of the Strategic Science in Antarctica conference, and we hope you’re as excited as we are! Read on for more information about the final program, registration, Twitter, presenters, posters and social functions.

More news…

Key dates

  • 11th June 2013
    Registrations close
  • 21st June 2013
    Registrations at the AAD open for staff
  • 24th June 2013
    Registrations at the venue open
  • 24th June 2013
    Conference commences
  • 26th June 2013
    Conference concludes

More key dates…

This page was last modified on 6 June 2013.