Two-thirds of Antarctica’s native species, including the emperor penguin, are threatened with extinction or major population declines by 2100. The current trajectory of global warmingThat’s according to new research that outlines priorities for protecting the continent’s biodiversity.
The study, an international collaboration of scientists, conservationists and policymakers from 28 institutions in 12 countries, identified emperor penguins as the Antarctic species most at risk of extinction, followed by other seabirds and terrestrial nematodes.
“Up to 80% of emperor penguin colonies are projected to be semi-extinct by 2100 [population declines of more than 90%] With business-as-usual growth in greenhouse gas emissions,” it found.
Published in Journal Plos BiologyThe study also found that implementing 10 key threat management strategies in parallel – which would cost an estimated US$23m a year – could benefit up to 84% of Antarctic species.
Influencing global policy to effectively limit global warming was identified as the conservation strategy with the most benefits.
Dr Jasmine Lee, lead author of the study from the British Antarctic Survey, said: “There are multiple threats affecting Antarctic species even though we think of it as this remote and pristine wilderness.” “The greatest threat does not come from within.”
Lee, who conducted the research as part of a PhD at the University of Queensland, added that the study’s co-authors recognized global action on climate was less likely locally than actions such as managing non-native species on continents.
With increasing human activity Antarctica The risk of introducing exotic species – both research and tourism – is increasing, Lee said.
Dr Alex Terwoods of the Australian Antarctic Division and a co-author of the study said the study highlighted that “biodiversity in Antarctica is under considerable pressure”.
“Antarctica is very well protected by the Antarctic Treaty and Protocol [on environmental protection],” said Terauds. “But the uniqueness of the continent, its wilderness value and incredible biodiversity means that we’re still looking for things we can do to try and make sure things are impacted as little as possible.”
Reducing the impact of human activities in Antarctica was identified as the most cost-effective management strategy.
“We can better educate our tourism agencies about the areas they should avoid where some of these species are threatened; We can educate the tourists themselves,” Terwoods said.
Other ways include reducing the environmental footprint of transport ships and aircraft, as well as protecting infrastructure projects and vegetation from trampling and other physical damage.
Even if global warming cannot be mitigated, all regional strategies combined would still benefit about 54% of Antarctic species, the paper found.
It also highlights the impact of climate crisis Iconic seabirds such as emperor and Adélie penguins. “Emperor penguins depend on ice to breed,” Lee said. “If it loses its suitable breeding habitat … which could happen [population] breaks down over time.”
Lesser known species eg Scotnema lindsaye, a type of roundworm, is already in decline. “It is an Antarctic specialist and lives in quite saline and dry soils. As the ice begins to melt, it warms … the soil becomes more moist and less saline,” Lee said.
Terrades added: “Things like nematodes – as uninteresting as they sound – are pretty amazing. They’re living in some of the most inhospitable parts of the planet.”