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Keynote presentation

Environmental change across the Antarctic – confronting the Eiseley effect

Steven L Chown, School of Biological Sciences, Monash University

Science… can solve problems, but it also creates them in a genuinely confusing ratio. Loren Eiseley. The Invisible Pyramid

Mitigating the impacts of environmental change drivers requires comprehension of how they are playing out separately, how they might interact, and how this will continue into the future. Typically it is assumed that the interaction between two of the most important drivers in the region, climate change and biological invasions, will be synergistic, so exacerbating their impacts. The interactions could, however, be additive, synergistic, neutral or antagonistic. At the broadest spatial scales, current and future interactions do appear to be largely positive and possibly synergistic, at least in terms of numbers. The richness of non-indigenous species and the distribution of species already introduced all seem to be increasing. Declines are either the consequence of concerted management action or in a minority of cases are inadvertent. For impacts, the situation is less clear, reflecting a more general situation globally. Forecasts for climate change across many areas, in combination with smaller scale physiological assessments and field experiments, suggest that an assumption of growing ‘climate x invasion’ challenges is reasonable, though how these will interact with local impacts, such as habitat disturbance and pollution, is obscure. In consequence, concerted research into these questions, along with management action for early detection and rapid response will be required. At smaller spatial scales and for significant life history traits that are also affected by changing climates and invasion, such as body size, the prognosis is less clear. The outcomes of interactions are likely to be much more specific to a given situation and to depend on the nature of the interaction and identity of the participants, as current investigations are starting to reveal. Nonetheless, these interactions are capable of altering profoundly some of the most fundamental of ecological patterns, and have already done so. Management interventions will have to recognize that while we know the broad outlines of the challenges, and can readily justify a wide range of interventions, in other areas we can say little more than that we’re in for a big surprise. Appropriately aligned future research can help reduce the surprises, though will struggle along in the absence of effective political action to address the root causes of the major drivers.


Steven L Chown is Head of the School of Biological Sciences at Monash University, Australia. He was previously inaugural Director of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology and Professor of Zoology at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. His research concerns organismal responses to changing environments and how best to manage human impacts on biodiversity. He has worked in South Africa, Australia, and the UK, and has undertaken much field research in the Antarctic. He has trained 50 graduate students, and has published widely, including more than 300 peer-reviewed scientific papers and several books. He has also contributed substantially to Antarctic conservation policy through the Antarctic Treaty System. As a consequence of these contributions and his research in the region he is the inaugural recipient of the Martha T Muse Award for science and policy in Antarctica. He has also received the South African Antarctic Gold Medal, the Gold Medal of the Zoological Society of Southern Africa, and is an elected fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa.

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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

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This page was last modified on 17 June 2013.