Species people consider more attractive, such as seabirds, have a better chance of survival than lichens or invertebrates.
A new study in Nature Communications argues that the species people consider more attractive, such as seabirds, have a better chance of survival than plants, lichens, and invertebrates, who are less visible and appealing for us.
Overall, the study explored 48,000 data records of 2,000 species of plants, lichens, birds and invertebrates across the protected areas of 16 ecological regions in Antarctica.
Wilson’s storm petrels, South polar skuas and Adélie penguins turned out to be the best-represented species across all of the protected areas, while most of the algae, mosses, liverworts, and lichen species came last on the list. Predominantly marine species and microbial life could not be included in the analysis at all because of a lack of data.
“While this snapshot of biodiversity protection highlights a bias […] of protecting easily detectable and charismatic species over less visible species, it provides a foundation for the systematic development of area protection via mechanisms provided for under the Antarctic Treaty system,” said Dr Aleks Terauds, a spatial ecologist from the Australian Antarctic Division who was a co-author of the paper.
Vertebrates inhabiting specially protected areas comprise only 21 species, while plants and lichens account to more than 1,200 species, which might partly explain the likeliness of different groups to be represented. Researchers also found that both the representation of species and the depth of previous inquiries varied widely across areas since some areas’ biodiversity protection might have lower priority than scientific, aesthetic, historical or other values.
According to Dr. Terauds this “highlights the opportunity to consider managing for multiple objectives,” but the findings also serve as important reminders of our limited capacities to protect true wilderness and the risks human interventions pose to biodiversity even with the best of our intentions.
Currently, the whole territory of Antarctica is protected under the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty as a natural reserve. An even higher protected status in some areas ensures strict controls over human activities, helping to support their biological resilience. Almost half of the continent species live in those areas.
By applying a more preventative and systemic approach we can allow local biodiversity to flourish, while also making sure Antarctica continues to play its important role in human cultures and sciences.