A publication in PLoS Biology

Current Antarctic conservation efforts are insufficient to avoid biodiversity decline



A lone emperor penguin floating on an iceberg away from its colony on the Antarctic Peninsula. ©Jasmine Lee

An international study conducted by the University of Queensland in Australia and in which Annick Wilmotte, a botanist at the InBios Research Unit (Faculty of Science) of the ULiège University, participated, shows that the policies implemented so far to try to save Antarctic ecosystems are insufficient but that other more effective avenues could be pursued. This study is published in the journal PLoS Biology.

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urrent conservation efforts to protect Antarctic ecosystems are insufficient. A study by Jasmine Lee of the University of Queensland, in collaboration with other researchers, estimates that 65% of the continent's flora and fauna could face population declines by 2100. Yet solutions could be found, but they will come at a cost.

To better understand which species are most vulnerable and to identify the most cost-effective actions," explains Jasmine Lee, "we combined expert assessments with scientific data to evaluate threats and conservation strategies for Antarctica. Annick Wilmotte, a botanist at the InBios research unit (Faculty of Science) at ULiège, was involved in the assessments of algal communities and micro-organisms. The researchers brought together a panel of 31 experts on Antarctic terrestrial biodiversity from around the world to identify management strategies to mitigate threats to Antarctic biodiversity and to quantify the costs, feasibility and benefits of each action.  

Gentoos ©Jasmine Lee

Gentoo penguin walking in Yankee Harbour, Antarctic Peninsula ©Jasmine Lee

Climate change has been identified as the most serious threat to Antarctic biodiversity and influencing global policy to limit warming remains the most beneficial conservation strategy. With current management strategies and a warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius, 65% of land plants and animals will be in decline by 2100. Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) have been identified as the most vulnerable, followed by other seabirds and nematode worms, which together account for a very large proportion of biological diversity on land. Management strategies implemented at the regional level could benefit 74% of plants and animals. "An estimated cost of $1.92 billion over the next 83 years, or 0.004% of global GDP in 2019." The regional management strategies identified as offering the greatest return on investment are reducing the impacts of human activities, improving the planning and management of new infrastructure projects and improving transport management.

With Antarctica facing increasing pressure from climate change and human activities, a combination of regional and global conservation efforts is needed to preserve Antarctica's biodiversity and ecosystem services for future generations, the authors say. Implementing these ten key threat management strategies - at an annual cost of US$23 million - would benefit 84% of terrestrial bird, mammal and plant groups.

And Jasmine Lee concludes: "What this work shows is that climate change is the greatest threat to Antarctic species and that we need global mitigation efforts to save them. This will not only secure their future but also ours."

Scientific reference

Lee JR, Terauds A, Carwardine J, Shaw JD, Fuller RA, Possingham HP, et al. (2022) Threat management priorities for conserving Antarctic biodiversity. PLoS Biol 20(12) : e3001921. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001921

Authors: Australia, UK, USA, South Africa, New Zealand, France, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Belgium

Contacts

Annick Wilmotte (ULiège)

Jasmine Lee (Queensland university)

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