Functional and spatial pressures on terrestrial vegetation in Antarctica forced by global warming

There is growing interest in what controls the present distribution of terrestrial vegetation in Antarctica because of the potential use of biodiversity as an indicator or predictor of the effects of climate change. Recent advances in knowledge of distribution and ecophysiological performance of terrestrial vegetation means that an initial analysis of the potential influence of temperature is now possible. Regressions of species numbers of lichens, mosses and hepatics on latitude and mean annual temperature (standard macroclimatic data) were carried out, and the terrestrial vegetation in Antarctica could be divided into two zones. The microenvironmental zone lies south of around 72°S, and biodiversity (richness and location) is uncoupled from the macroenvironment and is, instead, determined by the occasional coincidences of warmth, water, light and shelter. The macroenvironmental zone lies north of about 72°S, and biodiversity (richness, cover and growth) is strongly positively linked to mean annual temperature; species numbers increase at about 9–10% per K (24.0, 9.3 and 1.8 species for lichens, mosses and hepatics, respectively) probably due to improved water availability through increased precipitation and longer active period (monthly degree-days also reach zero at about 72°S) allowing greater productivity, completion of metabolic processes and a switch from survival to growth strategies. Cyanobacterial lichens appear to be a special case and may be expanding after being forced into northerly refugia. Warming will cause a southward movement of the boundary between the two zones but distribution in the microenvironmental zone will remain determined by local coincidences of environment and resources.
Journal Article
Type of thesis
Green, T.G.A., Sancho, L.G., Pintado, A. & Schroeter, B. (2011). Functional and spatial pressures on terrestrial vegetation in Antarctica forced by global warming. Polar Biology, published online 03 August 2011.
Publisher version