Aliens in Antarctica

Project Description
Short Title: Aliens
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The impact of non-native (alien) species on ecosystems is one of the big issues of the 21st Century. Human travel is occurring at an unprecedented level across the globe.

Currently alien microbes, fungi, plants and animals occur on some parts of the Antarctic continent and most of the sub-Antarctic islands. These have been transported to the region through human activity (Frenot et al 2005). Introduction routes are largely associated with movement of people and cargo in association with national scientific program and tourist operations (Whinam et al 2005). The impact of these alien species ranges from minor transient introduction to substantial loss of local biodiversity and changes to ecosystem processes and evolution. With rapid climate change occurring in some parts of Antarctica, greater numbers of alien introductions and more successful invasions by aliens are likely, with consequent increases in impacts on ecosystems (Bergstrom and Chown, 1999).

This project aims to assess the extent to which the annual migratory human population carry propagules (seeds, spores, eggs) of alien species unintendedly into the Antarctic region. It aims to take a snap shot of the propagule load during the first IPY summer. This project will be the first time that an assessment of the extent of transfer of alien species into an entire biome has ever been made.

This project will attempt to assess the propagule load carried by people on a large subsample of Antarctic voyages/flights into the Antarctic and subantarctic islands during the 2007/08 summer of IPY. Expeditioners' outer clothing and equipment will be inspected for propagules. Samples will be collected and identified to the lowest taxonomic level possible and using scaling- up procedures total propagule loads will be assessed. Furthermore recent travel histories of expeditioners will be taken, to assess potential sources of propagules. The significance of this element of the project is that propagules from cold areas such as the Arctic will have a greater chance of establishing in the Antarctic than those from warmer ecosystems.


Whinam, J., Chilcott N. & Bergstrom, D.M. (2005). Subantarctic hitchhikers: expedition as vectors for the introduction of alien organisms. Biological Conservation 121: 207-219.

Frenot, Y., Chown, S.L., Whinam, J.,Selkirk, P.M., Convey, P.,Skotnicki, M., & Bergstrom, D.M. (2005). Biological invasions in the Antarctic: extent, impacts and implications. Biological Reviews. 80:45-72

Bergstrom, D.M. & Chown, S.L (1999) Life at the front: history, ecology and change on southern ocean islands. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 14(12). 472-477