Biological Invasions

, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 269–281 | Cite as

The non-native chironomid Eretmoptera murphyi in Antarctica: erosion of the barriers to invasion

  • Kevin A. Hughes
  • M. Roger Worland
  • Michael A. S. Thorne
  • Peter Convey
Original Paper


Antarctica is the continent least affected by invasive species, but climate change and increasing human activity are increasing this threat. Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems generally have low biodiversity with simple community structures and little competition for resources. Consequently, species with pre-adaptations or capabilities that allow them to tolerate polar conditions may have disproportionately large ecosystem impacts when introduced to Antarctica compared with other regions of the Earth. Here we investigate the invasion risk associated with the flightless chironomid midge, Eretmoptera murphyi, which was accidentally introduced from South Georgia (54°S) to Signy Island, South Orkney Islands (61°S), probably during plant transplantation experiments in the 1960s. Larval size class distribution analysis indicated that E. murphyi has a 2 year life cycle on Signy Island, supporting previous suggestions. Estimates of litter turnover show that recent large increases in E. murphyi population density and extent are likely to increase nutrient cycling rates on Signy Island substantially. Existing physiological adaptations may allow E. murphyi to colonise higher latitude locations. Growth rate and microhabitat climatic modelling show that temperature constraints on larval development on Anchorage Island (68°S) are theoretically similar to those on Signy Island even though it is ~750 km further south. Establishment of this non-native midge at climatically similar intervening locations along the western Antarctic Peninsula is therefore plausible. Currently, lack of effective natural dispersal mechanisms is probably limiting the spread of the midge. However, dispersal to other areas of the Antarctic Peninsula may occur via human-assisted transportation, highlighting the importance of appropriate biosecurity measures.


Non-native Non-indigenous Sub-Antarctic Antarctic Peninsula South Georgia Distribution modelling 



We thank Peter Fretwell for map preparation, Stephen Roberts for discussions on the Holocene climate on South Georgia and David Vaughan, Steven Colwell, Gareth Marshall and John Turner for climate information. We thank two anonymous reviewers for their useful comments on the manuscript. This paper contributes to the British Antarctic Survey Polar Science for Planet Earth programme Ecosystems, the Environment Office Long Term Monitoring and Survey project (EO-LTMS), and the international SCAR EBA (Evolution and Biodiversity in Antarctica) research programme.


  1. Allegrucci G, Carchini G, Todisco V, Convey P, Sbordoni V (2006) A molecular phylogeny of Antarctic Chironomidae and its implications for biogeographical history. Polar Biol 29:320–326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allegrucci G, Carchini G, Convey P, Sbordoni V (2012) Evolutionary geographic relationships among chironomid midges from maritime Antarctic and sub-Antarctic islands. Biol J Linn Soc Lond 106:258–274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties (ATCP) (1991) Protocol on environmental protection to the Antarctic Treaty. CM 1960. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, LondonGoogle Scholar
  4. Block W, Burn AJ, Richard KJ (1984) An insect introduction to the maritime Antarctic. Biol J Linn Soc Lond 23:33–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bokhorst S, Huiskes A, Convey P, van Bodegom PM, Aerts R (2007) The effect of environmental change on vascular plant and cryptogam communities from the Falkland Islands and the Maritime Antarctic. BMC Ecol 7:15PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bokhorst S, Huiskes A, Convey P, van Bodegom PM, Aerts R (2008) Climate change effects on soil arthropod communities from the Falkland Islands and the Maritime Antarctic. Soil Biol Biochem 40:1547–1556CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bracegirdle TJ, Conolley WM, Turner J (2008) Antarctic climate change over the twenty first century. J Geophys Res–Atmos 113: D03103Google Scholar
  8. Burn AJ (1982) A cautionary tale–two recent introductions to the maritime Antarctic. Comité National Francais des Recherches Antarctiques 51:521Google Scholar
  9. Butler MG (1982) A 7-year life cycle for two Chironomous species in Arctic Alaskan tundra pools (Diptera: Chironomidae). Can J Zool 60:58–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Convey P (1992) Aspects of the biology of the midge, Eretmoptera murphyi Schaeffer, introduced to Signy Island, maritime Antarctic. Polar Biol 12:653–657CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Convey P (1994) Growth and survival strategy of the Antarctic mite Alaskozetes antarcticus. Ecography 17:97–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Convey P (1996a) The influence of environmental characteristics on life history attributes of Antarctic terrestrial biota. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc 71:191–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Convey P (1996b) Overwintering strategies of terrestrial invertebrates in Antarctica–the significance of flexibility in extremely seasonal environments. Eur J Entomol 93:489–505Google Scholar
  14. Convey P (2006a) Antarctic climate change and its influence on terrestrial ecosystems. In: Bergstrom D, Convey P, Huiskes AHL (eds) Trends in Antarctic terrestrial and limnetic ecosystems: Antarctica as a global indicator. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 253–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Convey P (2006b) Biological invasions. In: Bergstrom D, Convey P, Huiskes AHL (eds) Trends in Antarctic terrestrial and limnetic ecosystems: Antarctica as a global indicator. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 193–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Convey P, Block W (1996) Antarctic Diptera: ecology, physiology and distribution. Eur J Entomol 93:1–13Google Scholar
  17. Convey P, Pugh PJA, Jackson C, Murray AW, Ruhland CT, Xiong FS, Day TA (2002) Response of Antarctic terrestrial microarthropods to long-term climate manipulations. Ecology 83:3130–3140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Convey P, Bindschadler R, Di Prisco G, Fahrbach E, Gutt J, Hodgson DA, Mayewski PA, Summerhayes CP, Turner J, ACCE Consortium (2009) Antarctic climate change and the environment. Antarctic Sci 21:541–563CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Convey P, Key RS, Key RJD (2010) The establishment of a new ecological guild of pollinating insects on sub-Antarctic South Georgia. Antarctic Sci 22:508–512CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cranston PS (1985) Eretmoptera murphyi Schaeffer (Diptera: Chironomidae), an apparently parthogenetic Antarctic midge. Brit Antarct Surv Bull 66:35–45Google Scholar
  21. Danks HV (1981) Arctic arthropods: a review of systematics and ecology with particular reference to the North American fauna. Entomological Society of Canada, Ottawa 608 ppGoogle Scholar
  22. Davey MC, Pickup J, Block W (1992) Temperature-variation and its biological significance in fellfield habitats on a maritime Antarctic island. Antarct Sci 4:383–388CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Davis RC (1981) Structure and function of two Antarctic terrestrial moss communities. Ecol Monogr 51:125–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Edwards JA (1979) An experimental introduction of vascular plants from South Georgia to the maritime Antarctic. Br Antarct Surv Bull 49:73–80Google Scholar
  25. Edwards JA, Greene DM (1973) The survival of Falkland Islands transplants at South Georgia and Signy Island, South Orkney Islands. Brit Antarct Surv Bull 33 & 34: 33–45Google Scholar
  26. Everatt MJ, Worland MR, Bale JS, Convey P, Hayward SAL (2012) Pre-adapted to the maritime Antarctic? Rapid cold hardening of the midge, Eretmoptera murphyi. J Insect Physiol. doi: 10.1016/j.jinsphys.2012.05.009
  27. Frenot Y, Chown SL, Whinam J, Selkirk PM, Convey P, Skotnicki M, Bergstrom DM (2005) Biological invasions in the Antarctic: extent, impacts and implications. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc 80:45–72PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Greene SW, Gressitt JL, Korb D, Llano GA, Rudolph, ED, Singer R, Steere WC, Ugolini FC (1967) Terrestrial life in Antarctica. Antarctic Map Folio Series, No. 5. American Geographical Society, New York, 11 plsGoogle Scholar
  29. Hahn S, Reinhardt K (2006) Habitat preference and reproductive traits in the Antarctic midge Parochlus steinenii (Diptera: Chironomidae). Antarct Sci 18:175–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hänel C, Chown SL (1998) The impact of a small, alien invertebrate on a sub-Antarctic terrestrial ecosystem: Limnophyes minimus (Diptera, Chironomidae) at Marion Island. Polar Biol 20:99–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Heilbronn D, Walton DWH (1984) The morphology of some periglacial features on South Georgia and their relationship to the local environment. Br Antarct Surv Bull 64:21–36Google Scholar
  32. Hughes KA, Convey P (2010) The protection of Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems from inter- and intra-continental transfer of non-indigenous species by human activities: a review of current systems and practices. Glob Environ Change 20:96–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hughes KA, Convey P (2012) Determining the native/non-native status of newly discovered terrestrial and freshwater species in Antarctica–current knowledge, methodology and management action. J Environ Manage 93:52–66PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hughes KA, Worland MR (2010) Spatial distribution, habitat preference and colonisation status of two alien terrestrial invertebrate species in Antarctica. Antarc Sci 22:221–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hughes KA, Convey P, Maslen NR, Smith RIL (2010) Accidental transfer of non-native soil organisms into Antarctica on construction vehicles. Biol Invasions 12:875–891CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hughes KA, Lee JE, Tsujimoto M, Imura S, Bergstrom DM, Ware C, Lebouvier M, Huiskes AHL, Gremmen NJM, Frenot Y, Bridge PD, Chown SL (2011) Food for thought: risks of non-native species transfer to the Antarctic region with fresh produce. Biol Conserv 144:1682–1689CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) (2009) Boot, clothing and equipment decontamination guidelines for small boat operations. Available via:
  38. Kahm M, Hasenbrink G, Lichtenberg-Fraté H, Ludwig J, Kschischo M (2010) grofit: fitting biological growth curves with R. J Stat Softw 33(7):1–21Google Scholar
  39. Kennedy AD (1993) Water as a limiting factor in the Antarctic terrestrial environment: a biogeographical synthesis. Arct Alp Res 25:308–315CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. King JC, Comiso JC (2003) The spatial coherence of interannual temperature variations in the Antarctic Peninsula. Geophys Res Lett 30: 1040. 4 ppGoogle Scholar
  41. Lebouvier M, Laparie M, Hullé M, Marais A, Cozic Y, Lalouette L, Vernon P, Candresse T, Frenot Y, Renault D (2011) The significance of the sub-Antarctic Kerguelen Islands for the assessment of the vulnerability of native communities to climate change, alien insect invasions and plant viruses. Biol Invasions 13:1195–1208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lee JE, Chown SL (2009a) Quantifying the propagule load associated with the construction of an Antarctic research station. Antarct Sci 21:471–475CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lee JE, Chown SL (2009b) Breaching the dispersal barrier to invasion: quantification and management. Ecol Appl 19:1944–1957PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Longton RE (1967) Vegetation in the maritime Antarctic. Phil Trans Roy Soc Lon Ser B-Biol Sci 252:213–235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. MacMillan HA, Sinclair BJ (2010) Mechanisms underlying chill-coma. J Insect Phys 57:12–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. McGeoch MA, le Roux PC, Hugo EA, Chown SL (2006) Species and community responses to short-term climate manipulation: microarthropods in the sub-Antarctic. Aust Ecol 31:719–731CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Mercer RD, Gabriel AGA, Barendse J, Marshall DJ, Chown SL (2001) Invertebrate body sizes from Marion Island. Antarct Sci 13:135–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Morris EM, Vaughan DG (2003) Spatial and temporal variation of surface temperature on the Antarctic Peninsula and the limit of viability of ice shelves. Antarct Res Ser 79:61–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Peckham V (1971) Notes on the chironomid midge Belgica antarctica Jacobs at Anvers Island in the maritime Antarctic. Pac Insects Monogr 25:145–166Google Scholar
  50. R Development Core Team (2005) A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing. Vienna, Austria.
  51. Reichle DE (1968) Relation of body size to food intake, oxygen consumption, and trace element metabolism in forest floor arthropods. Ecology 49:538–542CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Royles J, Ogée J, Wingate L, Hodgson DA, Convey P, Griffiths H (2012) Carbon isotope evidence for recent climate-related enhancement of CO2 assimilation and peat accumulation rates in Antarctica. Glob Change Biol. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2012.02750.x
  53. Smith VR (2007) Introduced slugs and indigenous caterpillars as facilitators of carbon and nutrient mineralisation on a sub-Antarctic island. Soil Biol Biochem 39:709–713CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Smith VR (2008) Energy flow and nutrient cycling in the Marion Island terrestrial ecosystem: 30 years on. Polar Rec 44:211–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Steig EJ, Schneider DP, Rutherford SD, Mann ME, Comiso JC, Shindell DT (2009) Warming of the Antarctic ice-sheet surface since the 1957 International Geophysical Year. Nature 457:459–462PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sugg P, Edwards JS, Baust J (1983) Phenology and life history of Belgica antarctica, an Antarctic midge (Diptera: Chironomidae). Ecol Entomol 8:105–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Tin T, Fleming ZL, Hughes KA, Ainley DG, Convey P, Moreno CA, Pfeiffer S, Scott J, Snape I (2009) Impacts of local human activities on the Antarctic environment. Antarct Sci 21:3–33Google Scholar
  58. Turner J, Colwell SR, Marshall GJ, Lachlan-Cope TA, Carleton AM, Jones PD, Lagun V, Reid PA, Iagovkina S (2005) Antarctic climate change during the last 50 years. Int J Climatol 25:279–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Turner J, Bindschadler R, Convey P, di Prisco G, Fahrbach E, Gutt G, Hodgson D, Mayewski P, Summerhayes C (eds) (2009) Antarctic climate change and the environment. Cambridge, UK: SCAR, 526 ppGoogle Scholar
  60. Usher MB, Edwards M (1984) A dipteran from south of the Antarctic Circle: Belgica antarctica (Chironomidae) with a description of its larvae. Biol J Linn Soc 23:19–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Vaughan DG (2006) Recent trends in melting conditions on the Antarctic Peninsula and their implications for ice-sheet mass balance and sea level. Arct Antarct Alp Res 38:147–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Vaughan DG, Marshall GJ, Connolley WM, Parkinson C, Mulvaney R, Hodgson DA, King JC, Pudsey CJ, Turner J (2003) Recent rapid regional climate warming on the Antarctic Peninsula. Clim Change 60:243–274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Venables WN, Ripley BD (2002) Modern applied statistics with S, 4th edn. Springer, London 462 ppCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wall DH, Virginia RA (1999) Controls on soil biodiversity: insights from extreme environments. Appl Soil Ecol 13:137–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Whinam J, Chilcott N, Bergstrom DM (2005) Subantarctic hitchhikers: expeditioners as vectors for the introduction of alien organisms. Biol Conserv 121:207–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Worland MR (2010) Eretmoptera murphyi: pre-adapted to survive a colder climate. Physiol Entomol 35:140–147CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kevin A. Hughes
    • 1
  • M. Roger Worland
    • 1
  • Michael A. S. Thorne
    • 1
  • Peter Convey
    • 1
  1. 1.British Antarctic SurveyNatural Environment Research CouncilCambridgeUK

Personalised recommendations