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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

The Longest Baseline Record of Vegetation Dynamics in Antarctica Reveals Acute Sensitivity to Water Availability

Colesie, Claudia; Pan, Yueming; Cary, S. Craig; Gemal, Emma; Brabyn, Lars; Kim, Jeong-Hoon; Green, T. G. Allan; Lee, Charles K.


Against a changing climate, the development of evidence-based and progressive conservation policies depends on robust and quantitative baseline studies to resolve habitat natural variability and rate of change. Despite Antarctica's significant role in global climate regulation, climate trend estimates for continental Antarctica are ambiguous due to sparse long-term in situ records. Here, we present the longest, spatially explicit survey of Antarctic vegetation by harmonizing historic vegetation mapping with modern remote sensing techniques. In 1961, E. D. Rudolph established a permanent survey plot at Cape Hallett, one of the most botanically diverse areas along the Ross Sea coastline, harboring all known types of non-vascular Antarctic vegetation. Following a survey in 2004 using ground-based photography, we conducted the third survey of Rudolph's Plot in 2018 using near-ground remote sensing and methodologies closely mirroring the two historic surveys to identify long-term changes and trends. Our results revealed that the vegetation at Cape Hallett remained stable over the past six decades with no evidence of transformation related to a changing climate. Instead, the local vegetation shows strong seasonal phenology, distribution patterns that are driven by water availability, and steady perennial growth of moss. Given that East Antarctica is at the tipping point of drastic change in the near future, with biological change having been reported at certain locations, this record represents a unique and potentially the last opportunity to establish a meaningful biological sentinel that will allow us to track subtle yet impactful environmental change in terrestrial Antarctica in the 21st century.


baseline environment; terrestrial ecosystem; climate change; Antarctica; remote sensing; moss

Published in

Earth's Future
2022, volume: 10, number: 8, article number: e2022EF002823

Authors' information

Colesie, Claudia
University of Edinburgh
Colesie, Claudia
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology
Pan, Yueming
University of Edinburgh
Cary, S. Craig
University of Waikato
Gemal, Emma
University of Edinburgh
Brabyn, Lars
University of Waikato
Kim, Jeong-Hoon
Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI)
Green, T. G. Allan
University of Waikato
Green, T. G. Allan
Complutense University of Madrid
Lee, Charles K.
University of Waikato

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG13 Climate action

UKÄ Subject classification

Environmental Sciences
Physical Geography
Climate Research

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