The impact of marine vertebrates on polar terrestrial invertebrate communities

Marine birds and pinnipeds which come to land to breed, rest and moult are widely known to fertilize adjacent terrestrial ecosystems, with cascading effects on vegetation and other trophic levels. We provide a synthesis of the consequences of allochthonous nutrient enrichment for terrestrial invertebrate communities within and around marine vertebrate aggregation sites and nutrient sources in the High Arctic and Continental and Maritime Antarctic, the most nutrient-poor and environmentally extreme parts of the polar regions. Using a combination of literature review (identifying 19 articles from the Arctic Svalbard archipelago and 12 from different Antarctic locations) and new analyses of available datasets of springtail, mite and tardigrade community composition, we confirmed that terrestrial invertebrate abundance and species richness tended to increase, and their community compositions changed, as a result of marine vertebrate fertilisation in both polar regions. These changes were significantly greater on talus slopes enriched by kittiwakes, guillemots and little auks in the Arctic, as compared to the edges of penguin colonies in the Antarctic. Both these habitat areas were typically abundantly vegetated and provided the most favourable microhabitat conditions for terrestrial invertebrates. The most heavily disturbed and manured areas within Antarctic penguin rookeries and seal wallows, generally on flat or gently sloping ground, were typically characterised by extremely low invertebrate diversity. In the Arctic, only sites directly beneath densely-occupied bird cliffs were to some extent comparably barren. Invertebrate responses are dependent on a combination of vertebrate activity, local topography and vegetation development.


Publication status:
Published Online
Authors: Zmudczyńska-Skarbeka, Katarzyna, Bokhorst, Stef, Convey, Peter ORCIDORCID record for Peter Convey, Gwiazdowicz, Dariusz J., Skubała, Piotr, Zawierucha, Krzysztof, Zwolicki, Adrian

On this site: Peter Convey
26 April, 2023
Polar Biology
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