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The South Pole, along with much of the vast Antarctic continent that surrounds it, has a very low level of biodiversity. This is because of two factors: one being the incredibly cold, harsh climate that engulfs Antarctica, and the other being its rather isolated location away from the other continents. Any pockets of biodiversity are limited to a few areas – on the edges of Antarctica, bordering the seas and oceans that surround it. They also overwhelmingly occupy areas that are permanently ice-free all year round, up to 0.5% of the Antarctic continent.
The animal and plant species that make up the biodiversity found at the South Pole are rather few in number, than compared with the biodiversity of other places on Earth. These include four penguin species, a range of bird species, with seabirds being rather commonplace, and a selection of mite and springtail species. Commonly-found plant species include grass and liverwort, as well as lichens, mosses and algae. Micro-organisms also make up part of Antarctica’s biodiversity, and dominate at inland locations where the climate is even more extreme than at the edges of the continent. It is particularly notable that there are no mammal, amphibian, reptile, freshwater fish or tree species native to Antarctica, and none have been introduced to the continent. Although the South Pole and its surrounding continental area is home to a rather limited selection of flora and fauna, and thus its biodiversity is fairly constrained, even its remote and harsh landscape harbours a variety of different lifeforms.
To this day, Antarctica remains one of the last areas on Earth to not see a large-scale invasion of non-native species. Although some small introductions of animal species from other parts of the world – mostly slugs, types of flies and small insects – have occurred on the continent, particularly close to scientific research stations, introductions have been on a small scale. However, the biodiversity at and around the South Pole is under threat. The number of non-native species reaching Antarctica is increasing slowly but surely over time.
Antarctica is home to 50 research stations, and around 50,000 tourists visit the area every summer. This can accidentally bring small-sized species such as insects, onto the continent. However, checks are becoming more thorough, especially as scientists are particularly concerned about harming the area’s rather unique biodiversity. However, another factor is at play: climate change. As the climate at the South Pole becomes warmer, the ice sheets recede, which exposes more land, and the number of animal species that can live in Antarctica slowly increases with time. Although the remoteness of the area prevents species from reaching the continent, any accidentally introduced species will likely find it easier to spread and colonise parts of Antarctica than they would have a few decades ago. Removing ice sheets may also result in greater connectivity between different ecosystem communities, allowing them to mix, and increase the distribution of non-native species.
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