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Study predicts non native invasions in Antarctica - UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

A new study identifies the most damaging invasive non-native species likely to arrive in the Antarctic Peninsula region over the next decade.

Mussels can spread easily, threatening marine life on the seabed Picture: David Barnes, BAS
Mussels can spread easily, threatening marine life on the seabed Picture: David Barnes, BAS

The work by an international research team, led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), will inform measures to prevent and mitigate future invasions. Of the 103 species considered in detail, 13 were identified as most likely to arrive in the Antarctic Peninsula region from other parts of the world and potentially have a devastating impact on the fragile polar biological communities in marine and terrestrial Antarctic habitats.

Marine invertebrates such as mussels and crabs are top of the list of invasive species expected to arrive over the next decade, though button weed and mites were also identified as imminent threats. Mussels, for example, can survive in polar waters and spread easily, threatening marine life on the seabed; their water filtering alters the marine food chain and also the chemistry of the water around them

The research was overseen by Professor Helen Roy, a UKCEH ecologist who is also co-chair of a major global assessment into invasive non-native species by IPBES (the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services).

The study was part of a wider UK government-funded research programme predicting the threat from invasive non-native species that includes all the UK Overseas Territories. The researchers analysed hundreds of academic papers, reports and databases to find the species most likely to invade the Antarctic Peninsula.

Dr Kevin Hughes of BAS, lead author of the study, which has been published in Global Change Biology, says: “The Antarctic Peninsula region is by far the busiest and most visited part of Antarctica due to growing tourism and scientific research activities. Non-native species can be transported to Antarctica by many different means. Visitors can carry seeds and non-sterile soil attached to their clothing and footwear. Imported cargo, vehicles and fresh food supplies can hide species, including insects, plants and even rats and mice. Marine species present a particular problem as they can be transported to Antarctica attached to ship hulls. They can be very difficult to remove once established.”

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