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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Kevin A. Hughes.

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Hughes, K.A., Worland, M.R., Thorne, M.A.S. et al. The non-native chironomid Eretmoptera murphyi in Antarctica: erosion of the barriers to invasion. Biol Invasions 15, 269–281 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-012-0282-1

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Keywords

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