A team of scientists in the United Kingdom and the United States has warned that the native fauna and unique ecology of the Southern Ocean, the vast body of water that surrounds the Antarctic continent, is under threat from human activity. Their study is published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
"Although Antarctica is still the most pristine environment on Earth, its marine ecosystems are being degraded through the introduction of alien species, pollution, overfishing, and a mix of other human activities," said team member Dr Sven Thatje of the University of Southampton's School of Ocean and Earth Science (SOES) based at the UK's National Oceanography Centre.
Biodiversity can be conceptualised in terms of its information content: the greater the diversity of species and interactions between them, the more 'information' the ecosystem has. "By damaging the ecological fabric of Antarctica, we are effectively dumbing it down decreasing its information content and endangering its uniqueness and resilience," said lead author Professor Richard Aronson, a paleoecologist at the Florida Institute of Technology, USA.
The team's conclusions are based on an extensive review of the impacts of a wide range of human activities on the ecosystems of Antarctica. The Antarctic Treaty system, which includes environmental and fisheries management, provides an effective framework for the management and protection of the continent, but some of the threats are not currently being fully addressed.
Some of these impacts, such as pollution, can be relatively localised. However, global climate change caused by human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has the potential to affect the entire Antarctic region for decades to come.
The researchers point out that rising sea temperatures are already affecting marine creatures adapted to living within a particular temp
|Contact: Dr. Rory Howlett|
National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (UK)