Antarctic Science

The thermophilic bryoflora of Deception Island: unique plant communities as a criterion for designating an Antarctic Specially Protected Area

a1 British Antarctic Survey, NERC, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, UK

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Deception Island in the South Shetland Islands is one of the most volcanically active sites south of 60°S. Between 1967 and 1970 three major eruptions devastated large expanses of the landscape and its vegetation. Since 1970 extensive recolonization has occurred on the more stable surfaces. Unheated ground supports several bryophyte and lichen communities typical of much of the Maritime Antarctic, but geothermal habitats possess remarkable associations of bryophytes, many of which are unknown or very rare elsewhere in the Antarctic. Nine geothermal sites and their vegetation are described. Communities associated with more transient sites have disappeared when the geothermal activity ceased. Mosses and liverworts occur to within a few centimetres of the vents where temperatures reach 90–95°C, while temperatures within adjacent moss turf can reach 35–50°C or more and remain consistently between 25 and 45°C. Most of the bryoflora has a Patagonian–Fuegian provenance. It is presumed that, unlike most species, the thermophiles are not pre-adapted to the Antarctic environment, being able to colonize only where the warm and humid conditions prevail. The floristic and ecological importance of these thermophilic communities, and their sensitivity to perturbation by the rapidly increasing annual summer influx of tourists, as well as scientists, has resulted in these unique sites being proposed as components of a new Antarctic Specially Protected Area under the Antarctic Treaty.

(Received April 26 2004)
(Accepted August 18 2004)

Key Words: Antarctica; conservation; fumaroles; geothermal; liverworts; mosses.