Assessing the effectiveness of specially protected areas for conservation of Antarctica’s botanical diversity
Vegetation is sparsely distributed over Antarctica's ice-free ground, and distinct plant communities are present in each of the continent's 15 recently identified Antarctic Conservation Biogeographic Regions (ACBRs). With rapidly increasing human activity in Antarctica, terrestrial plant communities are at risk of damage or destruction by trampling, overland transport and infrastructure construction, and the impacts of anthropogenically introduced species, as well as uncontrollable pressures such as fur seal activity and climate change. Under the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, the conservation of plant communities can be enacted and facilitated through the designation of Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs). In this study we examined the distribution within the 15 ACBRs of the 33 ASPAs whose explicit purpose includes protecting macroscopic terrestrial flora. Large omissions in the protection of Antarctic botanical diversity were found, with no protection of plant communities in six ACBRs and, in a further six, less than 0.4% of the ACBR area was included within an ASPA protecting vegetation. We completed the first normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) satellite remote sensing survey to provide baseline data on the extent of vegetation cover in all ASPAs designated for plant protection in Antarctica. Protected vegetation cover within the 33 ASPAs totalled 16.1 km2 for the entire Antarctic continent, with over half of this within a single protected area. Over 96% of the protected vegetation was contained within two ACBRs, which together contribute only 7.8% of the continent's ice-free ground. We conclude that Antarctic botanical diversity is clearly inadequately protected, and call for systematic designation of ASPAs protecting plant communities across by the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties, the members of the governing body of the continent
Authors: Hughes, Kevin A., Ireland, Louise, Convey, Peter, Fleming, Andrew H.