Adaptation to Environmental Change

Continuous plankton recorder being deployed from the Aurora Australis. The CPR is used to map plankton communities and monitor the health of the Southern Ocean.
Continuous plankton recorder being deployed from the Aurora Australis. The CPR is used to map plankton communities and monitor the health of the Southern Ocean.
Photo: John Kitchener
 

The current biological diversity of Earth reflects an evolutionary history of adaptation to environmental changes and the selection of adaptations that allow continued existence, or enhanced survival resulting in species proliferation.

The Antarctic harbours many endemic taxa at the limits of their distribution and in a rapidly changing environment. The extreme conditions have led to remarkable biochemical, physiological and behavioural adaptations, the study of which is leading to the discovery of useful chemicals and genes.

Antarctica offers an unparalleled natural laboratory for investigating the impacts of environmental changes on the structure and function of biological communities and species.

By studying the distribution and abundance of plants, animals and microorganisms, their functional relationships and interactions, their dependence on environmental gradients (latitude and altitude), and their potential for evolutionary adaptation, we can develop models to predict changes in the structure and dynamics of Antarctic ecosystems as a result of environmental change.

Research on Antarctic and sub-Antarctic ecosystems can provide insight into fundamental processes that are frequently obscured by anthropogenic (man-made) effects at lower latitudes.

The Adaptation to Environmental Change program focussed on a small number of key environments, including the photic zone of the Southern Ocean, the terrestrial biota of selected sub-Antarctic islands, the near-shore benthos, and terrestrial and aquatic habitats on the Antarctic continent. Read more about the program in the 2004/05-2008/09 science strategy.

Much of this research is now encompassed by the Terrestrial and Nearshore Ecosystems: Environmental Change and Conservation Theme (2011-12 to 2020-21).

This page was last modified on 24 March 2004.