Overview of resilience of the antarctic environment


Natural disturbances are part of life in Antarctic ecosystems, and the native species can generally survive shock events because they have evolved strategies that allow their populations to rebuild after mass mortalities. Among these strategies are longevity among seabirds, and the ability of plant seeds to survive for long periods and to disperse.

Populations of some species of whales, seals and penguins have suffered human-induced mortality rates that pushed these species to the brink of extinction. Since hunting ceased, a number of species have recovered or are continuing to recover (some, like king penguins, in a spectacular manner)—although many of these recoveries took place in a world where environmental conditions were not exposed to the rapid change that is currently under way.

Remediation of some specific human impacts, such as fuel spills, is more difficult in the Antarctic region because of slower rates of microbial activity.

The Antarctic environment is changing rapidly, the changes are complex and not always unidirectional, and little evidence is available to show how the various factors will interact. Some organisms will benefit from these changes in the short term, but many species may be vulnerable because their capacity to adapt operates at a much slower rate than the changes currently observed.

Jackson WJ, Argent RM, Bax NJ, Bui E, Clark GF, Coleman S, Cresswell ID, Emmerson KM, Evans K, Hibberd MF, Johnston EL, Keywood MD, Klekociuk A, Mackay R, Metcalfe D, Murphy H, Rankin A, Smith DC, Wienecke B (2016). Overview: Overview of resilience of the antarctic environment. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/theme/overview/antarctic-environment/topic/overview-resilience-antarctic-environment, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65510c633b