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back to article Boffins, tourists threaten Antarctica with alien invasion

Ice-loving boffins and tourists are wrecking the Antarctic by effectively busing in lifeforms alien to the cold continent, according to a new study. Scientists who journey to the ice-bound land for research purposes, and the growing number of sightseers heading for the South Pole, are carrying with them seeds of foreign plants …

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Facepalm

erm...

...if birds carried seeds to Antarctica, it would be considered a natural phenomenon (and if climate change goes the way we expect such a thing is likely), but if humans do it, its bad news? If Antarctica is now warm enough for "foreign" plants to grow there, what exactly is the problem? How is the Antarctic being "wrecked"? (Let's not forget that the continent has been covered in vegetation in the past...)

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Re: erm...

Those were my thoughts too. A bigger hazard comes probably from rats and mice. If they're not already there eating the native seabirds, it's only a matter of time.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: erm...

The neighbour's cat sneaking in through an open window and crapping on your sofa might also be considered a natural phenomenon, but not necessarily one you might want to encourage.

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Trollface

Re: erm...

"if birds carried seeds to Antarctica..."

What, like coconuts...?

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Science

There's a good scientific reason for not wanting tourists carrying seeds to Antarctica - because it spoils research into how nature colonises formerly barren areas.

A good comparison is with the Icelandic island of Surtsey which was formed between 1963 and 1967. The island and its surrounding waters are closed to the public and can only be accessed by accredited scientists who are performing a long term study of how the island is being colonised from a bare rock to one that now holds hundreds of different species.

Even then they have to take care about accidentally introducing new species, in one case a tomato plant sprouted on Surtsey; it had from a seed that had escaped from someone's lunch. Even though there was almost no risk of the plant fruiting in the shall we say - brisk - Icelandic summer, the plant was torn up and removed from Surtsey to avoid contamination.

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Trollface

Re: Science

"how nature colonises formerly barren areas"

Like animals inadvertently carrying seeds for example?

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Re: Science

That's all well and good, but Antarctica wasn't actually put there for the benefit of scientists. Its not a lab, its part of the world.

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Re: erm...

Yes, that’s exactly right.

Now here’s one for you: Just because you, a layperson with no relevant formal training, cannot imagine some mechanism of ecological disturbance, that invalidates the mechanism that many of us biologists spend our careers studying?

Nice. You should be in American politics.

I should expect as much from a hack virtual rag that seems unable to refer to any science professional as anything but a “boffin.”

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@timk

Ah, seems to me the only species this seed-carrying activity is negatively affecting is pompous biologists, or magnificis biologus if you prefer.

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FAIL

Re: erm...

Ah - I see. Just because you've spent your life doing something, the rest of us should give a fart..? Clearly, you *are* an American. Or one of those self-satisfied Europeans. Or maybe one of those culturally zenophobic Asian groups...

You're frankly not all that important, in the big scheme of things. Show me how invasions of Antartica are going to wipe out the *thriving* and *dynamic* ecophere there, and how that's going to make the planet a worse place for the rest of us, and I'll actually give you some credence.

Until then, shove off.

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Anonymous Coward

timk (was Re: erm...)

Can you do a bit more proof reading of your posts please? I'm prepared to believe you have something useful to say, but I can't make out what that useful remark is on the basis of what you write.

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Boffin

Re: erm...

The problem is speed. Human presence often leads to much quicker change than other causes – for example, it's much easier for us to reach Antarctica, and hence deliver whatever is hitching a ride with us.

Colonizing life forms tend to dislodge indigenous species, often driving them into extinction. This almost always results in a net loss of diversity in the short term, because the colonizers are very much like their cousins back home, while the natives may be something else entirely (think Australia's marsupial mammals being driven off by Old World placentals). Of course the colonizers will stray away from their roots eventually, but it will take many thousands of years before the original level of diversity is restored.

You could say that's "business as usual", and might as well be – but there's no telling what secrets those gone species take with them. And for scientists that's a big problem, because we revel in discovery, but what if a newly discovered species is driven extinct before its habits can be documented? What if we can never get to grasp its biochemistry? What new medicines and chemicals could be lost forever, or postponed for many decades?

Zoologists and other natural world researchers are always struggling to hold back time, trying to keep their subjects as immutable as possible, so they can learn the most about them before they slip away, changed or killed off. And that's the extent of their powers, really: hard as they try, they can only slow change down, not hold it back forever.

So it's not that human-facilitated change is "bad" or "unnatural"; it's just that it is so fast, that it could disrupt research that could cope with other, slower change factors. And that is bad, because there's no telling what knowledge is lost in the process.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: And that is bad

You mean bad in terms of possible benefit to humanity, but the thing is we're not as important as some of us like to think.

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Pint

@Graham

"What, like coconuts...?"

That depends, are we talking about British or African birds ?

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Holmes

Re: And that is bad

Sorry, when I wrote "that is bad", i really meant "that is bad *for us*". Of course the Universe doesn't give a sh*t whether we figure out some soon-to-be extinct Antarctic species, but for ourselves it might turn out to be a big deal.

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Alien Life (the truth is out there)

Didn't some rock with alien life from Mars fall there a few years ago? How's that chap from Maties going to stop THAT?

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So what?

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See my previous post about just because a layperson with no relevant formal training cannot imagine some mechanism of ecological disturbance, that somehow invalidates the mechanism.

What a shame more people don't reply "so what" to more sports scores.

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What a shame more people don't reply to questions with useful and informative answers. If we cannot imagine some mechanism of ecological disturbance why don't you enlighten us timk?

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Trollface

Would that be...

Professor Chown -R www:www, to give him his full title? Relative of little Bobby Tables, by any chance?

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Happy

I'm reminded...

... of the Matt cartoon from a few months back showing a penguin at the Leveson enquiry complaining about how whether he was feeding, mating, caring for his young, there was David Attenborough and a film crew watching everything...

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Alien

Observation

Human beings are an indigenous part of the earth's biosphere (albeit a usually destructive one) and therefore should be a part of the scientific observation.

There has to be a point at which, attempting to preserve an ecosystem by removing "contaminating" objects, is actually interfering with the natural process in itself - thus creating an artificially preserved ecosystem. Though this makes if it's just to isolate one particular change, it should only be temporary observation.

If the scientists are studying a polar bear which has been unable to find food and is starving to death, do they feed it? If a certain species of bird turns up for the first time, do they capture them and ship them back to their 'natural' habitat? If a certain species of fish begins to evolve do they attempt to capture breed out the change?

There seems to be some kind of prevalent belief that the climate and ecosystems should not change and should remain exactly the same temperature, humidity, local species, sea level, mass and geography and that any change is unnatural and bad. The earth has been changing since it's been in existence, and it will continue to change whether or not we are around to see it.

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Mushroom

well

Who cares is right because of course this world is just limbo to prove our faith for the much better world to come. Satan puts the fake fossils to test our faith the world is more than 5,000 years old. This world exists solely to provide us natural resources to exploit so we may get rich and be comfortable. That is what God wants after all. </sarcasm>

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Paris Hilton

May I be the first...

...to use a Paris icon is this story about carrying seed.

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Anonymous Coward

What the papers say

ANTARCTIC DAILY MAIL, 6th March 2012

Figures released today reveal an alarming increase in the amount of foreign vegetation taking root in our community. Many of these immigrant plants arrive illegally, stowing away in the clothing and footwear of legitimate visitors. In some neighbourhoods, close to transit centres, local plants are actually in danger of becoming the minority vegetation.

Local penguin, Linus, a 53 year old fisherman, who has lived here all his life said "It's getting so it's like a foreign country round here. They come over and grow wherever they like. They've got all funny foreign names. They're always  complaining about the weather. It's ruining our traditional Antarctic way of life. If they don't like it here.... [cont'd P94]

ANTARCTIC GUARDIAN, 6th March 2012

Thomasina is a lithe, smiling tomato plant, with an infectious laugh and a wicked sense of humour. Some days she needs that sense of humour. Looking through her igloo window at her two young seedlings, snaking happily across the tundra, Thomasina stops smiling as she recalls her early days in this barren land.

"You get used to the name calling and being spat on in the street by the polar bears and penguins" she states matter-of-factly "But it's hard when the little ones come home and ask 'Why am I green, mummy?'...." [cont'd P94]

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Re: What the papers say

Nailed it! Genius!

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Facepalm

On the other hand.........

You doom and gloom lot really get to me. Jesus, think positive for once.

When the edge of London finally reaches the arctic circle there will already be a lawn in place for our dogs to crap on.

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