Terrestrial and nearshore ecosystems: Environmental change and conservation

An Adélie penguin nestled among some old fuel drums at Wilkes Station.
An Adélie penguin nestled among some old fuel drums, Wilkes Station.
Photo: Martin Riddle

Scientific research under this theme is investigating the effects of environmental change on Antarctic and subantarctic terrestrial and coastal ecosystems. It will provide the scientific basis to guide enhanced environmental protection for these ecosystems.

The work of the theme is organised into three streams:

Research in this theme will:

  • identify ecosystem sensitivities and vulnerabilities to environmental stressors
  • identify signals of ecosystem change caused by human activity
  • provide a scientific foundation for a system of spatial management and area protection in Antarctica
  • provide a scientific and technical foundation for practical measures to prevent, mitigate or remediate detrimental change caused by human activity.
Some of the waste from the Thala Valley tip site.
Some of the waste from the Thala Valley tip site.
Photo: Tim Spedding

The research builds on work undertaken over the past 20 years. For example, we established the world’s first dedicated Antarctic human impacts research program in the early 1990s, which supports environmental management of human activities in Antarctica. This includes ecological risk assessment processes to prioritise contaminated site clean-up and remediation, and the development of technologies for excavation, remediation and site stabilisation under freeze–thaw conditions experienced in Antarctica.

Additionally, experimental studies of disturbance to Antarctic wildlife from visitors, vehicles and aircraft have formed the basis of guidelines for minimising disturbance. Research has also been used to develop risk assessments for introduced non-native species, such as plant seeds and microbial pathogens, and to develop response plans and protocols to reduce the risks of non-native incursions.

Vegetation along Finch Creek, Macquarie Island in 2007 illustrating the loss of the majority of taller plant species and their replacement with low growing species. This change is the result of rabbit grazing.
Vegetation along Finch Creek, Macquarie Island in 2007. Most of the taller plant species have been replaced by low-growing species, due to rabbit grazing.
Photo: Kate Kiefer

This research theme is also focussing on the implications of climate change to management of the Antarctic and identifying climate change effects on sensitive components of ecosystems. These sensitive ecosystem components may be important ‘sentinels’ – providing early indications of ecosystem responses to change in both the Antarctic and in other parts of the world.

Terrestrial and Nearshore Ecosystems: Environmental Change and Conservation will contribute to Australia’s commitment to protecting the Antarctic environment by:

  • fulfilling Australia's obligations under the Madrid Protocol and other international agreements, national legislation and government initiatives and policies;
  • supporting governance of the Australian Antarctic Territory;
  • supporting Australia’s policy positions at the Antarctic Treaty meetings – principally the Committee for Environment Protection (CEP) meetings.

Research in this theme and associated streams feeds into:


This page was last updated on 10 February 2015.