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Resilience in Antarctic Biota and Ecosystems

This mission focuses on examining the biocomplexity of terrestrial ecosystems living in the extreme environments of the Ross Dependency, Antarctica, and building a biocomplexity model linking biodiversity, landscape and environmental factors is an easily understood form.

Our mission question is:

What biological or environmental factors drive terrestrial biocomplexity at any chosen location in the Ross Sea Region of Antarctica?

Antarctic terrestrial research is going through major changes. The current understanding of these extreme environments is that they are poor in nutrients, with small and simple biology that are ancient and slow-growing. Where we have recently applied modern research techniques we find a different story! There are biological systems supposedly thousands of years old, now carbon-dated to less than 100 years; and soils once thought to be life-less are found supporting microbial life at levels approaching those of temperate areas.

At each location, we visit we use traditional and cutting-edge scientific techniques to examine the biology from visible lichens, mosses and insects to hidden microbes. DNA fingerprinting and barcoding allows us to rapidly assess biodiversity and find links between sites. New genomic approaches that examine entire microbial communities and their functional aspects will provide a comprehensive picture of interrelationships within these communities. Amounts of organic matter and nutrients will be measured and its source determined by stable isotope ratios and molecular identity. This will help us discover the drivers of biodiversity in this cold, dry environment.

The information on biodiversity, landscape and environmental factors can then be modelled using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). This modelling will not only show the location of the biology but also identify the key species and factors controlling distribution. Knowledge of what determines present biocomplexity will help us to predict the effects of climate change and other global, regional and local impacts.

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