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The introduction of non-native species to Antarctica

IS Non Native UK

Information Summary

Version: 1.0

Published: 03/04/2014 GMT

Reviewed: 18/08/2014 GMT

Authors

Jana Newman*, Bernard W.T. Coetzee**, Steven L. Chown**, Aleks Terauds***, Ewan McIvor***

* Antarctica New Zealand, Private Bag 4745, Christchurch, New Zealand. j.newman@antarcticanz.govt.nz
** School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Victoria 3800, Australia.
*** Australian Antarctic Division, Channel Highway, Kingston, Tasmania, Australia.

DOI: 10.18124/D4BC7J


Synopsis

Antarctica's biodiversity and its intrinsic values are at risk from the introduction of non-native species, predominantly facilitated by human activity. Non-native species, or species that live outside of their natural range, can spread inter-regionally (from outside the Antarctic and its associated and dependent ecosystems) or intra-regionally (within the Antarctic and its associated and dependent ecosystems). Research suggests that non-native species in Antarctica could have substantial environmental, financial and irreversible impacts on Antarctic ecosystems and biodiversity. Research also suggests that the risk of establishment of non-native species is likely to increase with climate warming. Given the likelihood of increased pressures on Antarctic ecosystems from non-native species, addressing non-native species introductions is one of the highest priorities of the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP). The CEP has acknowledged that continued research on the impacts of non-native species and the adoption of practices to reduce their introduction and spread are needed.


Summary

Humans have spread organisms widely across the Earth, many of them unintentionally, through commerce, exploration and travel. Some of these organisms are versatile and can adapt to and thrive in new environments. Globally, this movement of organisms by humans to areas beyond their natural ranges (often then referred to as non-native species) is responsible for major changes in ecosystem structure and functioning, reductions of biodiversity, and negative economic impacts (1).

Antarctica and its associated and dependent ecosystems are under increasing pressure from the unintentional introduction of non-native species (2-7). Increased human activity in the region increases the likelihood of arrival and establishment of non-native species (2). Increased human activity within the Antarctic increases the likelihood of arrival and establishment of native species to biogeographic regions outside of their natural ranges (2, 3, 5). This, in turn, could increase the likelihood of altering the distinct biogeographic regions within Antarctica.

There is evidence that mainly terrestrial and some marine non-native species are introduced inadvertently to Antarctica in significant numbers (2-6). Seeds and soil are transported on clothing and personal belongings, and organisms are also transported during shipping, construction and general logistical activities (2-6). Some of these non-native species are known to have established, some have persisted for many years, and some have expanded their ranges and become invasive (5, 8, 9). Experience from environments around the world and from comparable environments in the Arctic and sub-Antarctic suggests that invasive species in Antarctica could have substantial environmental, financial and irreversible impacts on Antarctic ecosystems (1, 7, 10). In the sub-Antarctic, non-native grazing vertebrates and plants have altered native plant assemblages, non-native rodents and cats have greatly reduced bird populations, and non-native insects have altered nutrient turnover and decreased local insect abundances (3, 7).

Impacts resulting from the introduction of non-native species to Antarctica, and from moving native Antarctic species within Antarctica are likely to be exacerbated by climate change (2). The climate in some parts of Antarctica is changing dramatically, increasing the likelihood that non-native species could become established (4, 10). A continent-wide risk assessment for the establishment of non-native species in Antarctica demonstrated a substantial increase in the likelihood of establishment at key locations in the future (2, see Figure 1).

The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (the Protocol) aims to protect comprehensively Antarctica's environment and its dependent and associated ecosystems. This includes prohibiting the intentional introduction of non-native species to the Antarctic Treaty area except in accordance with a permit (which can only be issued under prescribed circumstances).

In 2011, following several years of development by the CEP, the Antarctic Treaty Parties recognised that the introduction of non-native species to the Antarctic region, including the movement of species between locations within the region, represents a serious risk to biodiversity and to the intrinsic values of Antarctica. By means of Resolution 6 (2011) Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting XXXIV (ATCM) also adopted a Non-native Species Manual, including guidelines and resources to assist Parties to meet the following agreed objective for further work on this issue:

To conserve Antarctic biodiversity and intrinsic values by preventing the unintended introduction to the Antarctic region of species not native to that region, and the movement of species within Antarctica from one biogeographic zone to any other (Non-native Species Manual).

Reducing the risk of the transfer of species between sites in Antarctica has been a recent focus of work to manage non-native species risks. In 2012 CEP XV endorsed 15 distinct Antarctic conservation biogeographic regions (11). The delineation of these biologically distinct regions supports the management of non-native species risks associated with moving between regions within Antarctica.

Increased pressures on Antarctic systems from climate change and increased human activity can increase the risk of non-native species introduction and range expansion (3, 5, 11, 12). Therefore, continued research into the impacts of non-native species and widespread adoption of practices to reduce their introduction and spread, and respond to introductions are integral to the protection of the Antarctic and its associated ecosystems.

Chown et al. 2012 risk index figure

Figure 1. The relative risk of alien vascular plants establishing in Antarctica. Visitor-free and ice free areas are allocated a small value because of the minor risk of species establishment in the absence of visitor landings. Insets show the risk index detail for the Antarctic Peninsula and the western Ross Sea, respectively. Ice-free areas are in dark grey, continental areas in light grey, and ice shelf or tongues in light blue. Source: Chown et al. 2012 PNAS 109, 4938-4943.


Key Events

1964:

ATCM III adopts the Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora (Agreed Measures). These include prohibiting "the bringing into the Treaty Area of any species of animal or plant not indigenous [non-native] to that Area, except in accordance with a permit" and requiring that "Each Participating Government undertakes to ensure that all reasonable precautions shall be taken to prevent the accidental introduction of parasites and diseases into the Treaty Area."

1991:

The Protocol is adopted (it enters into force in 1998). Through the Protocol, "The Parties commit themselves to the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment and dependent and associated ecosystems." Annex II to the Protocol (Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora) takes up some of the provisions of the 1964 Agreed Measures, including the prohibition of the introduction of the introduction of non-native species to the Antarctic Treaty Area (Article 4).

1998:

Chown, Gremmen and Gaston publish a paper (13) showing that human visitor rates explain variation in non-native species numbers across Antarctica and its associated and dependent ecosystems.

2000:

Convey et al. publish a paper (14) recognising the risk of intraregional transfers within Antarctica.

2001:

Chown et al. (15) show that the conservation value of some sub-Antarctic islands has been compromised by invasive species.

2003:

Lewis et al. (16) investigated ships used in support of Antarctic science and tourism and demonstrate that non-native marine species could be transported to the Antarctic on the hulls of such vessels.

2004:

Lewis, Riddle and Hewitt (17) report that many marine non-native species that may be associated with Antarctic vessels are species with invasive histories. The same paper cautions that changes to the components of hull anti-fouling treatments may enhance the risks of transport of marine non-native species to Antarctica.

2005:

Frenot et al. (3) publish a review on: "Biological invasions in the Antarctic: extent, impacts and implications", and report that "alien microbes, fungi, plants and animals occur on most of the sub-Antarctic islands and some parts of the Antarctic Continent".

The SCAR lecture to the ATCM highlights non-native species as a major risk to biodiversity in the Antarctic.

Whinam, Chilcott and Bergstrom (18) publish a paper reporting on the potential for scientists on national Antarctic programmes to act as vectors for the introduction of Non-native Species to Antarctica.

2006:

ATCM XXIX adopts Practical Guidelines for Ballast Water Exchange in the Antarctic Treaty Area through Resolution 3 (2006).

A workshop is held in New Zealand (19) on quarantine and non-native species. The CEP endorses all of the recommendations of the workshop, including that 'the issue of non-native species should be given the highest priority consistent with the high environmental standards set out in the Protocol; a “zero tolerance approach” and that 'a set of comprehensive and standardized guidance and/or procedures should be developed, aimed at all operators in the Antarctic, based on a “Prevention, Surveillance, Response” approach'.

2007:

At CEP X SCAR presents ATCM XXX/IP37 reporting on hull fouling as a source of marine invasions in the Antarctic, noting that recent studies (20) have shown hull fouling to be an important vector for non-native species introductions.

2008:

The CEP adopts a five-year work plan which identifies the issue of non-native species as its highest priority issue.

The CEP and SCAR encourage Members to use the Biodiversity Database as the central database of alien species occurrences in the Antarctic.

2009:

At the request of the CEP, the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat presents ATCM XXXII/SP11: a topic summary on Non-native Species in Antarctica.

2011:

In ATCM XXXIV/WP04, a CEP intersessional contact group reports on its completion of a manual of practical guidelines and resources to assist Parties to conserve Antarctic biodiversity and intrinsic values by preventing the unintended introduction to the Antarctic region of species not native to that region, and the movement of species within Antarctica from one biogeographic zone to any other. This Non-native Species Manual draws together the growing number of guidelines and resources that various agencies had developed in recent years into a central location.

ATCM XXXIV adopts Resolution 6 (2011) on non-native species which recommends that Parties disseminate and encourage, as appropriate, the use of the Non-native Species Manual and encourage the CEP to continue to develop it.

2012:

At CEP XV SCAR presents ATCM XXXV/WP05 reporting on the results of a continent-wide risk assessment (2) for the establishment of non-native vascular plant species in Antarctica. The assessment concludes (i) that the highest current risk is posed to the coast of the Western Antarctic Peninsula and the islands off the coast of the Peninsula, and (ii) that by 2100 the risk of the establishment of non-native species would continue to be highest in the Antarctic Peninsula area, but as a result of climate change would also increase substantially in the coastal ice-free areas to the west of the Amery Ice Shelf and to a lesser extent in the Ross Sea region.

The CEP agrees to:

  • use this analysis to further develop strategies to mitigate the risks posed by terrestrial non-native species;
  • develop a surveillance strategy for areas at high risk of non-native species establishment;
  • give additional attention to the risks posed by intra-Antarctic transfer of propagules.

In its paper, SCAR informs CEP XV that the average seed load during the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-09 period was 9.5 seeds per person (for those people carrying seeds). As many as 70,000 seeds may have arrived in Antarctica during the first summer of the IPY, with scientists, science-support and tourism-support personnel having higher loads than tourists (2).

Terauds et al. (11) publish an analysis of the best available biodiversity data, which for the first time allows for the delineation of 15 biologically distinct ice free regions in Antarctica.  Australia, New Zealand and SCAR report to CEP XV on these Antarctic Conservation Biogeographic Regions (ACBRs; ATCM XXXV/WP23rev.1).  On the advice of CEP XV, ATCM XXXV adopts Resolution 6 (2012) endorsing the Antarctic Conservation Biogeographic Regions as a tool to support the management of non-native species risks.

The SCAR lecture to the ATCM highlights that biological invasions have already occurred in Antarctica and discusses the implications and future challenges.

At CEP XV SCAR presents ATCM XXXV/WP05 reporting on the results of a continent-wide risk assessment (2) for the establishment of non-native vascular plant species in Antarctica. The assessment concludes (i) that the highest current risk is posed to the coast of the Western Antarctic Peninsula and the islands off the coast of the Peninsula, and (ii) that by 2100 the risk of the establishment of non-native species would continue to be highest in the Antarctic Peninsula area, but as a result of climate change would also increase substantially in the coastal ice-free areas to the west of the Amery Ice Shelf and to a lesser extent in the Ross Sea region.

The CEP agrees to:

  • use this analysis to further develop strategies to mitigate the risks posed by terrestrial non-native species;
  • develop a surveillance strategy for areas at high risk of non-native species establishment;
  • give additional attention to the risks posed by intra-Antarctic transfer of propagules.

In its paper, SCAR informs CEP XV that the average seed load during the International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-09 period was 9.5 seeds per person (for those people carrying seeds). As many as 70,000 seeds may have arrived in Antarctica during the first summer of the IPY, with scientists, science-support and tourism-support personnel having higher loads than tourists (2).

Terauds et al. (11) publish an analysis of the best available biodiversity data, which for the first time allows for the delineation of 15 biologically distinct ice free regions in Antarctica.  Australia, New Zealand and SCAR report to CEP XV on these Antarctic Conservation Biogeographic Regions (ACBRs; ATCM XXXV/WP23rev.1).  On the advice of CEP XV, ATCM XXXV adopts Resolution 6 (2012) endorsing the Antarctic Conservation Biogeographic Regions as a tool to support the management of non-native species risks.

The SCAR lecture to the ATCM highlights that biological invasions have already occurred in Antarctica and discusses the implications and future challenges.