Although the Antarctic has avoided the worst effects of alien species, its future seems endangered due to increasing natural and man-made pressures. Rapid changes in three major environmental variables have occurred in the Antarctic region during the last decades. In the short term terrestrial biota are likely to benefit from reduced environmental stresses, but in the long run the colonization of the region by lower latitude species with greater competitive ability will become increasingly important and can lead to large-scale changes in biological composition and trophic complexity in some existing Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems. Moreover, the recent dynamic climate changes combined with human activities in the Antarctic region might modify the status of several alien species which have hitherto been considered transient or persistent and could, therefore, become naturalized and threaten the native communities on a larger scale than today, or influence the status of naturalized species.
During thirty three expeditions to the Polish Arctowski Antarctic Station signifi− cant influences of human activity upon the environment have been recorded. Introductions of alien species, shifts of bird and seal breeding areas and decreases in both bird and seal populations, are the most obvious effects of human pressure. Though numbers of visits by tourists have increased during this period, impacts from expeditioners appear to be the main cause of changes. In particular, increasing numbers and mobility of summer groups at the station are the likely most influential factors.
During laboratory and field experiments on Nacella concinna on the west coast of Admiralty Bay, King George Island (Antarctica) clear morphological and behavioural differences between two limpet forms (N. concinna polaris and N. concinna concinna) were found. They suggested presence of genetic divergence. AFLP (amplified fragment length polymorphism) profiling of N. concinna individuals representing the two forms revealed nearly 32% of polymorphic bands; only 2% of them differed between the forms. Our results suggest that the observed phenotypic variation seems to be a result of adaptation to environ− mental conditions and not of any genetic divergence.
Poa annua L. is the only non−native vascular plant that was successfully established in the maritime Antarctic. This project aimed to determine the amount of genetic and epigenetic variation within and between two populations of P. annua , one from South Shetland Is. (Antarctic) and the other one from Central Europe. We applied two AFLP marker systems, using endonucleases that recognised the same restriction site but differed in their sensitivity towards methylation. The Antarctic population differed from the Polish one both at the genetic and epigenetic levels. Genetic variability in the Antarctic population was lower than in the Polish one. Some loci in the Antarctic population showed signs of selection. The difference between Polish and Antarctic populations might be due to a weak bottleneck effect followed by population expansion. Using only epigenetic markers, the Ant − arctic population exhibited increased variation level compared to the Polish one. These may have resulted from plastic responses to environmental factors and could be associated with survival in extreme conditions.
Populations of Antarctic hairgrass Deschampsia antarctica Desv. from King George Island exhibit variation in many traits. The reason for that is not evident and could be addressed to variable environmental conditions. Obviously, phenotypic variation could be due to stable or temporal changes in expression pattern as the result of adaptation. Stable changes could be due to mutations or site DNA methylation variation that modified expression pattern. Recently, metAFLP approach was proposed to study such effects. A variant of methylation sensitive AFLP (Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism), based on the isoschizomeric combinations Acc65 I/ Mse I and Kpn I/ Mse I was applied to analyze the sequence and site DNA methylation differences between two D. antarctica populations exhibiting morphological dissimilarities. Both DNA sequence mutations and site methylation pattern alternations were detected among and within analyzed populations. It is assumed that such changes might have originated as the response to environmental conditions that induced site methylation alternations leading to phenotypic variation of D. antarctica populations from South Shetland Islands.
During three austral summer seasons cargo, expeditioner clothes and equipment of the Polish Antarctic Expedition were examined for the presence of alien propagules. Detailed inspections were undertaken at the station buildings, searching for any invertebrates. During each austral summer fresh fruits and vegetables were also inspected. A total of 359 invertebrates and their remains were found in cargo transported to Arctowski Station, or caught in the station’s facilities. The majority of samples were classified as cultivation pests (26%), food pests (43%), wood−destroying pests (4%), domestic insects and arachnids (15%). Through supply of the research station a wide range of alien organisms can be accidentally transported and ultimately introduced to the Antarctic. This study has clearly demonstrated that almost all cargo items can be a potential vector for alien organisms. Species from a broad range of biological groups can be transported to the Antarctic and remain in a viable state.
During three austral summer seasons, dust and soil from clothes, boots and equipment of members of scientific expeditions and tourists visiting the Polish Antarctic Station Henryk Arctowski were collected and analysed for the presence of fungal propagules. Of a total of 60 samples, 554 colonies of fungi belonging to 19 genera were identified. Colonies of the genus Cladosporium , Penicillium and non−sporulating fungus ( Mycelia sterilia ) dominated in the examined samples. The microbiological assessment of air for the presence of fungi was also conducted at two points in the station building and two others outside the station. A total of 175 fungal colonies belonging to six genera were isolated. Colonies of the genus Penicillium were the commonest in the air samples. The potential epidemiological consequences for indigenous species as a result of unintentional transport of fungal propagules to the Antarctic biome are discussed in the light of rapid climate change in some parts of the Ant − arctic and adaptation of fungi to extreme conditions.