Temperature variation and its biological significance in fellfield habitats on a maritime Antarctic island
Temperatures within soil and plant habitats on Signy Island in the maritime Antarctic were measured during 1987. Four sites were monitored using minithermistors attached to a data logging system. Three main periods within the annual temperature cycle were identified. In spring/summer (November–March) there was much inter-day variation in maximum temperatures, but minimum daily temperatures were always close to 0°C. However, there were very few freeze-thaw cycles extending below the −0.5°C threshold during this period, and those that occurred were not severe. It is considered that freeze-thaw cycling is unlikely to be a significant factor in organism survival during summer. All sites showed a long period of relatively mild subzero temperatures during autumn (March–May). This may be of importance in promoting cold-hardiness of organisms living in these ecosystems before the decline to lower winter temperatures. Minimum winter temperatures varied markedly between sites; lowest temperatures occurring in areas where there was little insulating snow cover. Within site temperature variation was generally small, confirming the validity of the use of small numbers of probes to monitor environmental temperatures in such habitats.