The Antarctic biota count (ABC): a functional trait-based approach to scale biodiversity from plot to region


Antarctic terrestrial biodiversity is currently poorly protected under the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty, as conservation efforts are focused on charismatic vertebrates such as penguins and seals. There have even been instances where protection of penguins has resulted in management practices that were detrimental to terrestrial biodiversity. A key weakness in this state of affairs is that relatively little is known about the true extent and population sizes of the species, habitats and ecosystems of the Antarctic terrestrial domain (particularly lichens, mosses and invertebrates), which hampers effective protection of Antarctic biodiversity. Therefore, there is a need to develop new systematic tools to quantify and monitor Antarctica’s terrestrial biodiversity over much wider physical scales than has been achieved at present with traditional methods. This will facilitate credible systematic conservation planning for Antarctica and allow for science-based expansion of the current network of Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs), which is recognized as currently inadequate and non-representative, to better incorporate terrestrial biodiversity.
The overall aim of this project lies in developing new tools that allow rapid assessment of terrestrial biodiversity through remote sensing of ice-free areas along the Antarctic Peninsula. This will be achieved through three complementary sub-projects: 1) measuring moss and lichen cover at representative sites along the Antarctic Peninsula with the aim to link quantitative data (biomass and ground cover) to remotely sensed data and citizen science which will enable us to upscale to larger regions. 2) to refine the vegetation cover into functional groups, based on moss and lichen growth forms. We anticipate that we can then link the vegetation cover data to ecosystem services (carbon fluxes and nutrient availability) as spectral discrimination is possible for various Antarctic mosses and lichens and because growth forms are known to differently affect ecosystem process rates. 3) A biodiversity assessment, through taxonomic work and environmental-DNA, of the organisms contained within the main functional groups of the vegetation, to link the spatial vegetation cover to overall Antarctic terrestrial biodiversity.
The projects will deliver spatially explicit data on terrestrial biodiversity along the Antarctic Peninsula to inform the evidence-based designation of new ASPAs, a high priority activity within the Antarctic Treaty System and in particular the agenda of its Committee for Environmental Protection. The cryptogam trait database will form the link between biodiversity and the cover data and will be made freely available to facilitate expansion to other Antarctic regions and updating by the wider science community. In addition, this trait database will be used for the testing of ecological and evolutionary theories on trade-offs between growth and physiological processes, similar to the global vascular plant trait-base TRY.





Prof. dr. J.H.C. Cornelissen

Verbonden aan

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Faculteit der Bètawetenschappen (Faculty of Science), Systeemecologie


01/10/2020 tot 01/10/2024