Geothermal bryophyte habitats in the South Sandwich Islands, maritime Antarctic

Question: How does geothermal activity influence terrestrial plant colonization, species composition and community development in the Antarctic? Location: South Sandwich Islands, maritime Antarctic. Methods: Bryophytes were documented during a biological survey of the archipelago in January and February 1997. Particular attention was given to sites under current or recent influence of geothermal activity. Temperature profiles obtained across defined areas of activity on several islands were linked with the presence of specific bryophytes. Results: Greatest bryophyte richness was associated with geothermally influenced ground. Of 35 moss and nine liverwort species recorded, only four mosses were never associated with heated ground, while eight of the liverworts and 50% of the mosses were found only on actively or recently heated ground. Some species occur in unheated sites elsewhere in the maritime Antarctic, but were absent from such habitats on the South Sandwich Islands. Several species occurred in distinct zones around fumaroles. Maximum temperatures recorded within the upper 0.5 cm of the vegetation surface were 40 - 47 °C, with only Campylopus introflexus tolerating such temperatures. Maximum temperatures 2.5 or 5 cm below the vegetation surface of this moss reached 75 °C. Other bryophytes regularly present in zoned vegetation included the mosses Dicranella hookeri, Sanionia georgicouncinata, Pohlia nutans and Notoligotrichum trichodon, and the liverworts Cryptochila grandiflora and Marchantia berteroana. Surface temperatures of 25 - 35 °C and subsurface temperatures of 50 - 60 °C were recorded in these species. Conclusions: These exceptional plant communities illustrate the transport of viable propagules into the Antarctic. Individually ephemeral in nature, the longer term existence of geothermal habitats on islands along the Scotia Arc may have provided refugia during periods of glacial expansion, facilitating subsequent recolonization of Antarctic terrestrial habitats.


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Authors: Convey, P. ORCIDORCID record for P. Convey, Smith, R.I. Lewis

On this site: Peter Convey
1 January, 2006
Journal of Vegetation Science / 17
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