Soil trampling in an Antarctic Specially Protected Area: tools to assess levels of human impact
Research in extremely delicate environments must be sensitive to the need to minimize impacts caused simply through the presence of research personnel. This study investigates the effectiveness of current advice relating to travel on foot over Antarctic vegetation-free soils. These are based on the concentration of impacts through the creation of properly signed and identified paths. In order to address these impacts, we quantified three factors - resistance to compression, bulk density and free-living terrestrial arthropod abundance - in areas of human activity over five summer field seasons at the Byers Peninsula (Livingston Island, South Shetland Islands). Studies included instances of both experimentally controlled use and natural non-controlled situations. The data demonstrate that a minimum human presence is sufficient to alter both physical and biological characteristics of Byers Peninsula soils, although at the lowest levels of human activity this difference was not significant in comparison with adjacent undisturbed control areas. On the other hand, a limited resilience of physical properties was observed in Antarctic soils, thus it is crucial not to exceed the soil's natural recovery capability.
Authors: Tejedo, P., Justel, A., Benayas, J., Rico, E., Convey, Peter, Quesada, A.