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23 December 2022 Partner Release

Iconic Antarctic seabirds like emperor penguins and many other unique plants and animals are at risk of extinction or major population declines by 2100, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to track above 2°C warming.

However new research has identified cost-effective and feasible management strategies* that could benefit almost all of Antarctica’s native species, and prevent significant declines for 65% of them.

The research, published in PLOS Biology today, is the first to assess how resources could be invested to benefit Antarctic terrestrial biodiversity, and which management strategies would provide the greatest “bang for the buck”.

Lead author Dr Jasmine Lee, from the University of Queensland (now British Antarctic Survey), Dr Aleks Terauds from the Australian Antarctic Division, and Dr Josie Carwardine from CSIRO, were part of a team from 12 countries, who used their expertise in biodiversity, policy, logistics, tourism and conservation to assess management strategies that would conserve Antarctic biodiversity.

“We estimated the cost, feasibility and benefit of 10 management strategies in isolation, and combined, under different climate change scenarios that either track above or below 2°C warming by 2100,” Dr Lee said.

The team found that ‘influencing global policy’ to limit climate change – the biggest threat to Antarctic biodiversity – is the most beneficial management strategy, but the least feasible, largely due to the socio-political climate.

The most cost-effective management strategy is ‘minimising the impacts of human activities’, by changing human behaviour through education, training and practices to avoid physical impacts on biodiversity and habitats.

Specific aspects of human activity, including ‘managing new infrastructure projects’ and ‘transport management’, will also be hugely beneficial, especially at local levels.

Regional management strategies that benefit the most species include ‘managing non-native species and disease’, ‘protecting species’ and ‘protecting areas’.

“If humans can’t mitigate climate change then the combination of all our strategies, excluding ‘policy influence’ will still benefit 53–75% of taxa,” Dr Lee said.

Dr Terauds said a range of protection measures were already in place in Antarctica, including overall protection provided by the Protocol for Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, specific mechanisms to protect native species, and the system of Antarctic Specially Protected Areas.

“This unique study provides a detailed roadmap for targeting resources to strategies that will provide the most cost-effective benefit to Antarctic biodiversity,” Dr Terauds said.

“We now have a detailed assessment of species most at risk and a prioritisation of the actions we can take to mitigate these risks.”

To put a dollar figure on the different management strategies and their return on investment the team used a tool developed by CSIRO.

“The Priority Threat Management tool combines scientific and expert information on the benefits, costs and probability of success of a range of management actions, to find the best investments in managing threats across regions,” Dr Carwardine said.

“We’ve used the tool in Australia, Canada, Indonesia and now Antarctica, to provide real-world solutions to challenging conservation problems.”

The study also showed that by 2100 some species are likely to remain in a similar state to now. Others may expand their distribution and/or abundance, potentially at the expense of others.

These species include some types of mosses and algae, microbial mats, lichens and Gentoo penguins – the only seabird predicted to benefit from climate change.

“Understanding how vulnerable species are to threats and how different conservations actions benefit species is important for guiding effective conservation responses,” Dr Terauds said.

“This study demonstrates that securing Antarctic biodiversity for future generations requires both global efforts to tackle climate change and continuing regional conservation actions.”

*The management strategies assessed were:

  • Business as usual
  • Remediation of damaged sites
  • Managing existing infrastructure
  • Managing new infrastructure
  • Transport management
  • Protecting vegetation
  • Protecting areas
  • Protecting species
  • Human activities
  • Influencing external policy
  • All strategies combined
  • All strategies excluding ‘policy influence'

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