Antarctic ecosystems in transition – life between stresses and opportunities

Important findings from the second decade of the 21st century on the impact of environmental change on biological processes in the Antarctic were synthesized by 26 international experts. Ten key messages emerged that have stakeholder-relevance and/or a high impact for the scientific community. They address (i) altered biogeochemical cycles, (ii) ocean acidification, (iii) climate change hotspots, (iv) unexpected dynamism in seabed-dwelling populations, (v) spatial range shifts, (vi) adaptation and thermal resilience, (vii) sea ice related biological fluctuations, (viii) pollution, (ix) endangered terrestrial endemism and (x) the discovery of unknown habitats. Most Antarctic biotas are exposed to multiple stresses and considered vulnerable to environmental change due to narrow tolerance ranges, rapid change, projected circumpolar impacts, low potential for timely genetic adaptation, and migration barriers. Important ecosystem functions, such as primary production and energy transfer between trophic levels, have already changed, and biodiversity patterns have shifted. A confidence assessment of the degree of ‘scientific understanding’ revealed an intermediate level for most of the more detailed sub-messages, indicating that process-oriented research has been successful in the past decade. Additional efforts are necessary, however, to achieve the level of robustness in scientific knowledge that is required to inform protection measures of the unique Antarctic terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and their contributions to global biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Gutt J., Isla E., Xavier J. C., Adams B. J., Ahn I. Y., Cheng C. C., Colesie C., Cummings V. J., di Prisco G., Griffiths H., Hawes I., Hogg I., McIntyre T., Meiners K. M., Pearce D. A., Peck L., Piepenburg D., Reisinger R. R., Saba G. K.., Schloss I. R., Signori C. N., Smith C. R., Vacchi M., Verde C. & Wall D. H., in press. Antarctic ecosystems in transition – life between stresses and opportunities. Biological Reviews, Cambridge Philosophical Society. Article.

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