Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Alien invasion a threat to Antarctic ecosystem

In the pristine frozen continent of Antarctica scientists fear an alien invasion - not from outer space, but carried in people's pockets and bags.

Seeds and plants accidentally brought to Antarctica by tourists and scientists may introduce alien plant species which could threaten the survival of native plants in the finely balanced ecosystem.

Invasive alien plants are amongst the most significant conservation threat to Antarctica, especially as climate change warms the ice continent, said a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal published on Tuesday.

More than 33,000 tourists and 7,000 scientists visit Antarctica each year by ship and aircraft, and a two month survey of visitors has found that many are carrying plant seeds picked up from other countries they have already visited.

The study vacuumed travellers' pockets, trouser and sleeve cuffs, shoes and inside their bags, and used tweezers to pry out accidentally hidden seeds. On average each person checked had just 9.5 seeds in clothing and equipment. Read More