Because of its harsh environmental conditions and remoteness, Antarctica is often considered to be at low risk of plant invasion. However, an increasing number of reports have shown the presence and spread of non-native plants in Antarctica; it is therefore important to study which factors control the invasion process in this ecosystem. Here, we assessed the role of different human activities on the presence and abundance of the invasive Poa annua. In addition, we performed a reciprocal transplant experiment in the field, and a manipulative experiment of germination with P. annua and the natives Colobanthus quitensis and Deschampsia antarctica, in order to unravel the effects of physical soil disturbance on the establishment and survival of P. annua. We found a positive correlation between abundance of P. annua and level of soil disturbance, and that survival of P. annua was 33% higher in sites with disturbed soil than non-disturbed. Finally, we found that disturbance conditions increased germination for P. annua, whereas for native species germination in experimentally disturbed soil was either unchanged or reduced compared to undisturbed soil. Our results indicate that human activities that modify abiotic soil characteristics could play an important role in the abundance of this invasive species. If the current patterns of human activities are maintained in Antarctica, the establishment success and spread of P. annua could increase, negatively affecting native flora.
Keywords: Alien species; Colobanthus quitensis; Deschampsia antarctica; human disturbance; Poa annua; tourists.
(Published: 23 June 2014)Citation: Polar Research 2014, 33, 21425, http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/polar.v33.21425