The “astonishing” expansion of two Antarctic flowering plants is a climate warning

2022-06-15 0 By

Flowering plants in the Antarctic are expanding rapidly, indicating the continuing impact of climate change on the continent, scientists say.The findings suggest we may have reached a tipping point in this fragile, remote ecosystem.A new study of the plant’s expansion looks at two species of flowering plants native to Antarctica, Deschampsia Antarctica and Colobanthus Quitensis.The researchers measured the plants’ growth and expansion on a subantarctic island called Signy Island between 2009 and 2019.Both plants grew faster each year as temperatures rose — something the team attributed to warmer summer air and fewer fur seals trampling plants, possibly linked to food supplies and sea conditions.”We hypothesize that the significant expansion of these plants was primarily triggered by summer air warming and the release of fur seal disturbance limits,” the researchers wrote in their published paper.From 1960 to 2011, the air increased by 0.02 degrees Celsius per year, but after four years of cold snaps, it increased at a rapid rate of 0.25 degrees per year.D. Antarctica increased by nearly 21% per decade between 1960 and 2009.From 2009 to 2018, that rate increased to 28 percent every decade.Meanwhile, during the same period, the growth rate of C. cuitensis increased from less than 7% per decade to 154%.While all this may be good news for D. Antarctica and C. Quitensis, it won’t benefit the region as a whole: warmer temperatures may allow invasive species to gain a foothold in the ecosystem, which could lead to “irreversible biodiversity loss and change” for these fragile and unique ecosystems, the authors write.The same planned expansion has been recorded in mountainous Europe, but this study shows “the first evidence of an accelerated ecosystem response to climate warming in Antarctica,” the authors note.It turns out that Antarctica may not be as climate-proof as we thought.”This hypothesis is consistent with observations in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in Europe, where land use changes are associated with vegetation changes, but just as here, the main driver of these responses is climate warming,” the researchers wrote.The researchers believe that what happened on Sigourney is likely to happen elsewhere, although further research is needed to be sure.More research is needed into the possible future effects of such transmission.With so many factors at work, from plant expansion to seasonal rainfall to ice melt, predicting exactly where Antarctica is headed is a challenge — but it’s clear that this is a very delicately balanced environment, and one that is under serious threat.”Our results support the hypothesis that future warming will trigger significant changes in these fragile Antarctic ecosystems,” the researchers wrote.