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Conserving polar biodiversity

The Polar Regions contain a rich variety of species adapted to their unique environments. Many of these species help to drive the global cycles of carbon and nutrients on which we depend. But, as the Polar Regions experience rapid and significant change, this will impact polar biodiversity into the future. Shrinking sea ice and ocean acidification alter key habitats for polar species.

Risks rise of incursions by non-polar species, including grasses, insects, zooplankton and sea-floor organisms, which could displace polar species and change key features of polar ecosystems and biodiversity. Levels of pollution from heavy metals, plastics, persistent organic pollutants are increasing exponentially in Polar Regions, threatening the ecological interactions of polar species. The harvesting of fish and krill in Polar Regions is increasing, which threatens the stability of target populations and the food webs they support. These increasing stressors make polar species some of the most threatened on Earth.

A mass of small, pink shrimp-like creatures
Antarctic krill is at the centre of the Antarctic food chain

The British Antarctic Survey can build on a successful track record of delivering cutting edge ecosystem studies and evidence to underpin policy decisions.

Our multidisciplinary science teams work on many aspects of conservation issues, from remote sensing to ecosystem modelling, and account for the physics, chemistry, and biology of the polar environment. We safeguard long-term monitoring programmes that span many decades, as well as thousands of physical specimens. Together, we use these resources to identify changes in the environment, species populations, and biodiversity. In this way, BAS is ideally-placed to deliver at the forefront of polar ecosystem research and ensure that scientific consensus drives polar conservation policy.

The challenge:

To conserve biodiversity in the Polar Regions in the face of climate change, pollution, and other environmental stressors.

Our science targets:

  • Predict how polar ecosystems respond to the challenges of climate change and polar fisheries to ensure conservation measures remain effective
  • Quantify the impact of multiple stressors on biodiversity by examining interactions between species and environmental conditions now and in the past
  • Explore some of the least known habitats on Earth, from the deep ocean and subglacial environments to isolated nunataks, to capture the full extent of polar biodiversity
  • Improve understanding of polar biodiversity and its greatest threats using the latest tools in biodiversity and environmental modelling
  • Demonstrate the global importance of polar biodiversity and influence global policy to manage it better