Publication Details

Robinson, S., Waterman, M., King, D., Turnbull, J., Bramley-Alves, J., Ashcroft, M., Ryan-Colton, E., Wasley, J. & Hua, Q. (2019). Moss species on the move in East Antarctic terrestrial communities. International Association of Bryologists (IAB), International Molecular Moss Science Society (iMOSS), Sociedad Espanola de Briologia (SEB) 2019 Conference (pp. 22).


Antarctica has experienced major changes in temperature, wind speed and stratospheric ozone levels over the last 50 years. Whilst West Antarctica and the peninsula showed rapid warming and associated ecosystem change, East Antarctica appeared to be little impacted by climate warming, thus biological changes were predicted to be relatively slow. Detecting the biological effects of Antarctic climate change has also been hindered by the paucity of long-term data sets, particularly for organisms that have been exposed to these changes throughout their lives. We monitored vegetation communities in the Windmill Islands, East Antarctica from 2000 to 2014 and found significant changes in moss species composition. In addition, we have shown that radiocarbon signals preserved along shoots of the dominant Antarctic moss flora can be used to determine accurate growth rates over a period of several decades, allowing us to explore the influence of environmental variables on growth. Carbon stable isotopic measurements suggest that the observed effects of climate variation on growth are mediated through changes in water availability and most likely linked to the more positive phase of the Southern Annular Mode and changing westerly wind patterns. For cold remote locations like Antarctica, where climate records are limited and of relatively short duration, this illustrates that mosses can act as microclimate proxies and have the potential to increase our knowledge of coastal Antarctic climate change.