Antarctic Protected Areas

Antarctica is one of the Earth’s last spans of intact wilderness, but protection of Antarctic biodiversity lags behind the rest of the world. Though Antarctica is generally designated as a place for peace and science, the biodiversity isn’t automatically protected to the degree it might need. This is especially so on the mainland, where, despite the amount of ice, there is a lot of life. Ice free areas in dry valleys and on mountain tops (called Nunataks) hold communities of organisms, many of which have highly unique genomes. To ensure these species are protected, we first need to understand what the current state of protection is. We worked to answer some basic questions, such as which Antarctic species live within Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs, the name for what are essential Antarctic nature reserves) and more importantly which species do not occur in any ASPAs. The full paper can be found here, and a summary of our findings is shown here:

AntarcticProtectionInfographic


Restoring the Macquarie Island Red Crown Parakeet

The Southern Ocean encircles the Antarctic continent, and contains a number of small Sub-Antarctic Islands. These islands are hotspots of biodiversity, where many species of birds and seals flock to breed. Surpringsly, some of these islands are also home to tropical looking parakeets!

AntipodesParakeet

These little birds, which constitute various species and subspecies of the Red-crowned parakeet (Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae) clade, live on a handful of islands in the New Zealand Sub-Antarctic, but one species of them used to exist on an Australian Sub-Antarctic island, Macquarie Island.

Unfortunately the first human visitors to the island brought with them many invasive species including rabbits, rats, cats and mice. These wreaked havoc on the native Macquarie Island ecosystem. Strangely, it wasn’t the introduction of cats alone that led to the extinction of the parakeets, but it is thought that in a classic example of ecological trophic cascades, the introduction of rabbits to the island (a few years after the cats arrived) meant the cat population was able to expand, and eventually hunt the parakeets to extinction.

But recently, an enormous effort has been underway to rid Macquarie Island of its various invasive species, and this was declared a success in 2014. Since then, there has been discussion about re-introducing parakeets to the island to help in the restoration efforts.

Though exciting, before any such project could go ahead, we would need to decide where to take the parakeets from. So we conducted a study to assess which of the other parakeet species/subspecies would be best suited to life on Macquarie Island.

We found that far and away the most appropriate substitute would be a species living on Auckland Island, Reischek’s Parakeet:

Reischek's Parakeet

Getting parakeets to the island is probably a ways off yet, but at least we know the first step!