The Latest Threat To Antarctica: An Insect And Plant Invasion

2017-06-21T09:40:25+00:00 June 21, 2017|
Rise in tourism and warmer climate bring house flies – and the growth of mosses in which they can live. (Credit: Vincent van

(Click to enlarge) Rise in tourism and warmer climate bring house flies – and the growth of mosses in which they can live. (Credit: Vincent van Zeijst/Wikimedia commons)

Antarctica’s pristine ice-white environment is going green and facing an unexpected threat – from the common house fly. Scientists say that as temperatures soar in the polar region, invading plants and insects, including the fly, pose a major conservation threat.

(From The Guardian /  by Robin McKie) —  More and more of these invaders, in the form of larvae or seeds, are surviving in coastal areas around the south pole, where temperatures have risen by more than 3C over the past three decades. Glaciers have retreated, exposing more land which has been colonised by mosses that have been found to be growing more quickly and thickly than ever before – providing potential homes for invaders. The process is particularly noticeable in the Antarctic peninsula, which has been shown to be the region of the continent that is most vulnerable to global warming.

“The common house fly is a perfect example of the problem the Antarctic now faces from invading species,” said Dominic Hodgson of the British Antarctic Survey. “It comes in on ships, where it thrives in kitchens and then at bases on the continent. It now has an increasing chance of surviving in the Antarctic as it warms up, and that is a worry. Insects like the fly carry pathogens that could have a devastating effect on indigenous lifeforms.”

The Antarctic has several native species of insects. Together with its indigenous mosses and lichens, these are now coming under increased threat from three major sources: visiting scientists; swelling numbers of tourists; and global warming.

In 2015-6, more than 38,000 tourists visited Antarctica while around 43,000 were expected for the following season. “These tourists are often very scrupulous about not leaving waste or having mud – which could carry seeds or bugs from other areas – on their boots when they set foot on the Antarctic peninsula,” said Hodgson.

“However, it is still very difficult to avoid contamination. Camera bags are a particular problem. People take them from one continent to the next and rarely clean them. They put them on the ground and seeds picked up elsewhere get shaken loose. It is a real issue.”

Nevertheless, it is global warming that is the main driver of the greening of Antarctica. Temperatures have been rising steadily in the peninsula since meteorological data began to be collected there in the 1950s. This shows that over the past 60 years the region has warmed up by around half a degree Celsius every decade.

To read the full article, click here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/17/antarctica-insect-plant-invasion-house-flies-mosses-warmer-climate