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Antarctic Research Series

 

Keywords

  • Ecology—Research—Antarctica—Antarctic Peninsula Region

Index Terms

  • 9310 Information Related to Geographic Region: Antarctica
  • 4815 Oceanography: Biological and Chemical: Ecosystems, structure and dynamics

Article

ANTARCTIC RESEARCH SERIES, VOL. 70, PP. 15-59, 1996

Terrestrial and freshwater biotic components of the western Antarctic Peninsula

R. I. L. Smith

A review is presented of the biota and functional processes of the terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems of the western Antarctic Peninsula. This region is probably the most biologically diverse and ecologically dynamic of any in Antarctica. Although there is a substantial published literature for this region, it is very disparate and remarkably little of it provides detailed or quantitative assessments. Experimental research has been very much neglected throughout the region. A historical overview of investigations and research is given. The major geographical and climatic divisions of the region are defined, and the biological significance of the driving environmental variables (climate, geology, soils, marine influence) is described. The diversity of life forms, principal ecological processes and vegetation dynamics are discussed; a subjective classification of the plant communities is proposed. Physiological and other biological processes, although among the least studied features of the biota, are discussed, with particular regard to survival mechanisms. Finally, the weaknesses of research to date are taken as the basis for recommendations for future research directions, highlighting the major advantages for testing ecological and physiological hypotheses in the simple ecosystems of this sector of the Antarctic. These need to address both fundamental scientific as well as practical problems which can be answered only in an Antarctic environment. The western Antarctic Peninsula is ideally suited for utilizing its capacity as a “natural laboratory” to investigate responses of individual organisms and of communities to the rapidly changing environment being experienced in this climatically sensitive area. While little intensive terrestrial or freshwater research has yet been achieved here, it has the potential for yielding answers to specific problems of global importance.

Citation: Smith, R. I. L. (1996), Terrestrial and freshwater biotic components of the western Antarctic Peninsula, in Foundations for Ecological Research West of the Antarctic Peninsula, Antarct. Res. Ser., vol. 70, edited by E. E. Hofmann, R. M. Ross, and L. B. Quetin, pp. 15–59, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/AR070p0015.

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