26 Dec 2022.
A new research has found that if necessary conservation efforts are not taken, the populations of up to 97 percent of land-based Antarctic species could decline by the end of this century.
About Antarctica’s biodiversity
Antarctica has a unique species of plants and animals that can survive the coldest, windiest, highest and driest continent on Earth. These species include 2 flowering plants, hardy moss and lichens, numerous microbes, invertebrates and breeding seabirds like emperor and Adélie penguins. These animals and plants are threatened because of global warming and climate crisis.
What are the key findings of the study?
- Greater conservation efforts are required for the protection of Antarctic ecosystems, which are threatened because of climate crisis.
- Climate change is the biggest threat to the plant and animal species living in Antarctica. Addressing global warming is an effective step to secure their future.
- With the worsening global warming, Antarctica’s ice-free areas are predicted to expand further, causing rapid changes in the natural habitat of animals and plants living there.
- Humanity’s presence in the region, besides causing environmental pollution, supports the thriving of invasive species.
- According to the study, under the worst-case scenario, if the current conservation efforts remain the same, the population of 97 percent of Antarctic terrestrial species and breeding seabirds could decline between now and 2100.
- At the best-case scenario, 37 percent of the species would decline.
- The most likely scenario would mean a 65 percent decline in the population of the terrestrial species by 2100.
- Emperor penguins are at the risk of going extinct by 2100 in the worst-case scenario. It is the only species in the study that is facing this fate.
- Climate change is also threatening the nematode worm Scottnema lindsayae, which lives in extremely dry soils. It is threatened as melting ice is increasing soil moisture.
- Not all species in Antarctica are facing population decline. Some are expected to benefit initially. These include 2 Antarctic plants, some mosses and the gentoo penguin. Their populations are expected to increase and become more widespread in the event of more liquid water, more ice-free and warmer temperatures.
How can these threats be addressed?
An estimated 23 million USD per annum could be enough to implement 10 key strategies to minimise threats faced by Antarctica’s biodiversity. This is relatively small sum that can benefit 84 percent of the terrestrial bird, mammal and plant groups. It is lesser than the cost of reviving the threatened species, which is estimated to be more than 1.2 billion USD per annum.
Reducing global warming to not more than 2°C could benefit up to 68 percent of terrestrial species and breeding seabirds. Managing non-native species and diseases and effectively managing and protecting native species can also benefit Antarctica’s biodiversity. They can be achieved by providing special protection for species, and increasing biosecurity to prevent the introduction of non-native species.