Terrestrial biodiversity in Antarctica – recent advances and future challenges
Although its major components have been known almost since the earliest exploring expeditions, even today the terrestrial biota of Antarctica is surprisingly poorly described in detail. It is clear that most currently ice-free ground in Antarctica would have been covered and scoured by glacial advances at the Last Glacial Maximum or previous maxima. Exceptions to this generalisation include parts of the Victoria Land Dry Valleys and some inland nunataks and mountain ranges at altitude, which host their own largely unique biota. However, as new baseline survey data have become available, in combination with the application of techniques of molecular biological analysis, new evidence has been obtained indicating that long-term persistence and regional isolation is a feature of the Antarctic terrestrial biota whose generality has not previously been appreciated. As well as creating a new paradigm in which to consider the evolution and adaptation of Antarctic terrestrial biota, this opens important new cross-disciplinary linkages in the field of understanding the geological and glaciological history of the continent itself. Superimposed on this emerging historical template of Antarctic biogeography, this biota now faces the twin challenges of responding to the complex processes of climate change facing some parts of the continent, and the direct impacts associated with human occupation and travel to and between the spatially very limited areas of terrestrial habitat.