Tuesday, 11 July 2017

A rare look at the potentially harmful effects of climate change on terrestrial species in Antarctica


Much research has been dedicated to studying the effects of climate change and global warming on the Antarctic ice sheet and sea levels; but the same can't be said about the ice-free parts of the region, which cover less than 1% of the continent. 

Australian researchers modelled the potential effect of climate change 
under two Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change climate-forcing scenarios. Their findings suggest that under the more radical of the two scenarios, the ice-free areas in the Antarctic can expand by as much as 25% by the end of the 21st century. 

Such a drastic increase in surface area can bring about a homogenization of the biome, the extinction of less-competitive species and the spread of invasive species. Though the 
expansion of habitat space can be viewed as a positive outcome, researchers say that sticking to the protocol that aims to reduce global temperature increases will help maintain the current biodiversity in the terrestrial Antarctic regions.

Permanently ice-free areas are home to almost all of Antarctica's biodiversity. Jasmine Lee and colleagues model the potential effect of climate change on the extent of ice-free areas in Antarctica over the coming century, under moderate and severe forcing scenarios. Ice-free areas are projected to expand by over 17,000 km2 under the strongest forcing scenario. The greatest change can be expected in the Antarctic Peninsula, where a threefold increase in ice-free area is projected. The authors suggest that the expansion and eventual merging of ice-free areas could have harmful consequences for the biodiversity of the continent by facilitating the homogenization of biodiversity across regions.

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