Invasive Species Carried Steadily in the Antarctic

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Softpedia news, April 29th, 2011 – original article here

Antarctica was until recently the most pristine continent in the world, but that situation is currently changing. Research scientists, tourists, and just about anyone who sets foot around the South Pole, are carrying bacteria and other organisms that are not indigenous to this area.

For all intents and purposes, we are promoting an invasion that could see the establishing of new species in this clean habitat. While the harsh conditions in Antarctica will take care of most intruders, there are those that will undoubtedly survive.

Some microorganisms are known for being able to survive in space for prolonged periods of time, so they can surely endure in a bit of ice, scientists say. The same holds true for plant seeds that are being involuntarily and steadily carried on the Southern Continent.

 The main risk with invasive species is that they tend to overtake a new habitat by killing off indigenous species. The latter spent millions of years adapting to their environment, and achieving an ecosystemic balance, only to have it all taken away by opportunistic organisms.

“We are still at the stage when Antarctica has fewer than 10 non-native species, none of which have become invasive. Unless we take steps now to minimize the risk of introduction, who knows what will happen,” says expert Kevin Hughes.

The investigator, who holds an appointment as an environmental scientist at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), analyzed some 11,250 pieces of fresh produce in a new study. Together with colleagues, he was trying to determine how many new organisms make their way in the Antarctic via this route.

Experts found 56 invertebrates, which included aphids, butterflies, spiders and snails. Large amounts of soil were discovered on many produce, and more than a quarter of all were rotten due to microbes.

“Are these numbers surprising, or does it mean this is likely to be a problem? It’s pretty hard to say,” comments Daniel Simberloff, an expert who was not a part of the new research.

“The upshot is that there’s just enough people going to some parts of Antarctica nowadays that lots of organisms are carried there,” adds the scientist, who is a professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

“I have to think this isn’t good, and some subset of them are going to pose environmental problems,” he goes on to say, quoted by LiveScience.

“To be quite honest, the only way we are going to stop the introduction of nonnative species is to stop going to Antarctica, to cut off all the pathways. What we can do is try and minimize the risk of introduction and we can do that by relatively simple steps,” Hughes adds further.

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