When we think of Antarctica, long swathes of ice come into mind. But, could you ever imagine plants flowering in the Antarctic region? The pristine Antarctic ecosystem is being overturned by the climate crisis, according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology. It studied Signy Island, part of the South Orkney Islands of Antarctica. As the summers in the region are warming, two flowering plants have been multiplying fast.
Antarctica was considered fairly resistant to the impacts of climate change. This is primarily because human activities on the continent are strictly regulated. Since the environment is so windy and dry, very few plants are able to survive there, apart from Deschampsia Antarctica (Antarctic hair grass) and Colobanthus Quitensis (Antarctic Pearlwort). As compared to the growth between 1960 and 2009, While the hair grass’ growth accelerated tenfold between 2009 and 2019 the Pearlwort grew fivefold.
The authors say that the flowering plants could soon outgrow the growth of mosses and lichens in the region. The summer warming has increased from 0.02 degrees C to 0.27 degrees C in the past decade. Scientists say that the Antarctic ecosystem responds quickly to even minor climatic changes. While the increase could also be attributed to the decline in the number of fur seals, the study says that it is primarily attributed to the warming summer air. The temperate weather conditions could also open doors to non-native species which are more invasive to the ecosystem. These will cause changes in the soil acidity, degradation of the permafrost, bacterion, fungi and in turn how organic matter decomposes. Essentially, Antarctica is going to witness a whole new season that has never been seen before.
“Our findings support the hypothesis that future warming will trigger significant changes in these fragile Antarctic ecosystems,” researchers wrote in the paper.