Insights on the environmental impacts associated with visible disturbance of ice-free ground in Antarctica
Brooks, ST and Tejedo, P and O'Neill, TA, Insights on the environmental impacts associated with visible disturbance of ice-free ground in Antarctica, Antarctic Science, 31, (6) pp. 304-314. ISSN 0954-1020 (2019) [Refereed Article]
The small ice-free areas of Antarctica provide an essential habitat for most evident terrestrial biodiversity, as well as being disproportionately targeted by human activity. Visual detection of disturbance within these environments has become a useful tool for measuring areas affected by human impact, but questions remain as to what environmental consequences such disturbance actually has. To answer such questions, several factors must be considered, including the climate and biotic and abiotic characteristics. Although a body of research has established the consequences of disturbance at given locations, this paper was conceived in order to assess whether their findings could be generalized as a statement across the Antarctic continent. From a review of 31 studies within the Maritime Antarctic, Continental Antarctic and McMurdo Dry Valleys regions, we found that 83% confirmed impacts in areas of visible disturbance. Disturbance was found to modify the physical environment, consequently reducing habitat suitability as well as directly damaging biota. Visible disturbance was also associated with hydrocarbon and heavy metal contamination and non-native species establishment, reflecting the pressures from human activity in these sites. The results add significance to existing footprint measurements based on visual analysis, should aid on-the-ground appreciation of probable impacts in sites of disturbance and benefit environmental assessment processes.