Global southern limit of flowering plants and moss peat accumulation
The ecosystems of the western Antarctic Peninsula, experiencing amongst the most rapid trends of regional climate warming worldwide, are important “early warning” indicators for responses expected in more complex systems elsewhere. Central among responses attributed to this regional warming are widely reported population and range expansions of the two native Antarctic flowering plants, Deschampsia antarctica and Colobanthus quitensis. However, confirmation of the predictions of range expansion requires baseline knowledge of species distributions. We report a significant southwards and westwards extension of the known natural distributions of both plant species in this region, along with several range extensions in an unusual moss community, based on new survey work in a previously unexamined and un-named low altitude peninsula at 69º22.0’S 71º50.7’W in Lazarev Bay, north-west Alexander Island, southern Antarctic Peninsula. These plant species therefore have a significantly larger natural range in the Antarctic than previously thought. This site provides a potentially important monitoring location near the southern boundary of the region currently demonstrated to be under the influence of rapidly changing climate trends. Combined radiocarbon and lead isotope radiometric dating suggests that this location was most likely deglaciated sufficiently to allow peat to start accumulating towards the end of the 19th century, which we tentatively link to a phase of post-1870 climate amelioration. We conclude that the establishment of vegetation in this location is unlikely to be linked to the rapid regional warming trends recorded along the Antarctic Peninsula since the mid-20th century.
Authors: Convey, Peter, Hopkins, David W., Roberts, Stephen J., Tyler, Andrew N.