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Antarctica’s Plant, Animal Life Threatened by Increasing Ice-Free Areas

Jun 30, 2017 11:35 AM EDT
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A new study revealed that the increasing ice-free areas in Antarctica could negatively affect the plant and animal life that are unique in the continent.

The study, published in the journal Nature, showed that the ice-free area in Antarctica could increase to 25 percent by 2100 if the current trend of global greenhouse gas emissions continues to rise. Due to this expansion, some of the native animal and plant species in the continent could suffer from population decline.

"While this might provide new areas for native species to colonize, it could also result in the spread of invasive species, and in the long term, the extinction of less competitive native species," warned study co-author Aleks Terauds, also of the Australian Antarctic Program, in a report from USA Today.

At present, the ice-free area in Antarctica covers only less than 1 percent of the continent. However, these areas serve as home to about 99 percent of the plants and animals unique to Antarctica. If the recent trend continues, about 85 percent of the Antarctic Peninsula could become ice-free. Additionally, the researchers predict about five meters of ice melt in the region by 2100.

Global temperatures exceeding 2 degrees Celsius could make South Oakley Islands completely ice-free by 2100. The researchers described such event as the "a complete transformation of the physical environment."

While some of the native species in Antarctica could greatly suffer from the expansion of ice-free areas, there are also other species that could benefit from the increasing number of patches. The extra space could become breeding grounds for some species of penguins, seabirds and seals.

One of the species that can be greatly benefitted by the milder conditions of the region are the Gentoo penguins, which could increase their abundance and expand their range.

The researcher noted that these changes in the range and breeding grounds of some species could have destabilizing effects on the ecosystem in the continent. These changes could encourage the spread of invasive species, greatly threatening some of the native species.

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