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Polar Regions

Antarctic Treaty System Alien spcies present in the Polar Regions

Maj de Poorter
Member Invasive Species Specialist Group

The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty includes a prohibition on the introduction of any species of animal or plant not native to the Antarctic Treaty Area without a permit. Nevertheless, non-native species have been found in Antarctica and it can be expected that with a warming climate more will gain toeholds on the continent and in its surrounding waters.

IUCN (through the Antarctic involvement of the ISSG coordinator Maj de Poorter) has expressed concern on this issue in the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM)s for over a decade, and played a major role in getting this issue on the ATCM’s agenda.

In the last few years “non-native species” has become a priority for the ATCM’s Committee on Environmental Protection. The recently completed “IUCN Strategy for Antarctica” (early 2009) states that “through the work of its Species Survival Commission’s Invasive Species Specialist Group and its Invasive Species Initiative, as well as through its leadership role in the Global Invasive Species Programme (GISP), IUCN will play a key role in facilitating and providing knowledge and know-how to the discussions on this issue”


The International Polar Year is a large scientific programme focused on the Arctic and the Antarctic from March 2007 to March 2009

Information extracted from the following documents:
IPY Aliens in Antarctica Presented by Australia, SCAR ATCM 10, CEP 5, CEP 8(a). XXX Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting New Delhi 30 April to 11 May 2007

The International Polar Year (IPY) Aliens in Antarctica Project

IPY Aliens in Antarctica is an international project sponsored by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) that will assess the pathways for transfer of propagules (seeds, spores, eggs), and the extent to which people from many nations unintentionally carry propagules of alien species into the Antarctic region.

The project is based on an invasion model in which there are 4 barriers in the process of invasive species colonization: 1) transport barrier; 2) establishment barrier; 3) invasion barrier, 4) transformer barrier (sensu Richardson et al. 2000).

Once the initial transport barrier has been breached then the remaining barriers can be breached to some degree in the sub-Antarctic islands by an extensive range of taxa (see Frenot et al. 2005; Convey et al. 2007; Frenot et al. in press), and that in the Antarctic region the establishment barrier has been breached by a handful of taxa (Frenot et al. in press).

As the transport barrier is the major hurdle for alien species colonization, this project is focused only on this barrier and, specifically, on the size of, and variation in the propagule load breaching this barrier.

Project aims

To assess the size and species range of propagules (seeds, spores and eggs) of alien species that are carried to the Antarctic by humans and to attribute their entry to various pathways, and to ascertain the general source of the propagule load.

Project details

The project will encompass five components directed at information attainment of logistic processes and propagule assessment. For more details please follow the link to the project document above

Component 1 - Travel history questionnaire Component 2 - Survey of organisations Component 3 - Human sampling program Component 4 - Cargo as a vector Component 5 - Data Management

Project outcomes

The project will help inform the Antarctic Treaty parties of the size and nature of the threat and possible mitigation methods. Results are expected to be generated within 8 to 12 months, and recommendations should be available for consideration by the ATCM/CEP in 2009.


Convey, P. (in press). Non-native species in the Antarctic terrestrial environment. In Aliens in Antarctica, Workshop Proceedings, Gateway Antarctica, Christchurch, New Zealand, March 2006.

Frenot, Y., Chown S.L., Whinam, J., Selkirk P.M., Convey, P, Skotnicki, M. & Bergstrom D.M. (2005). Biological invasions in the Antarctic: extent, impacts and implications. Biological Reviews 80, 45-72.

Frenot, Y.,Convey, P., Lebouvier, M., Chown S.L., Whinam, J., Selkirk P.M., Skotnicki, M. & Bergstrom D.M. (in press) Biological Invasions: an environmental issue for Antarctic and the sub-Antarctic. In Aliens in Antarctica, Workshop Proceedings, Gateway Antarctica, Christchurch, New Zealand, March 2006.

Richardson, D.M., Py_ek, P., Rejmánek, M., Barbour, M.G., Panetta, F.D. & West, C.J. (2000). Naturalization and invasion of alien plants: concepts and definitions. Diversity and Distributions 6, 93-107.


Information extracted from the following document
Gremmen, Nik & Ad Huiskes, Aliens in Antarctica Quantifying Plant and animal propagules inadvertently carried into the Antarctic. The IPY Aliens in Antarctica Project Poster Presented by SCAR Agenda Item: CEP 8b XXXII Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting Baltimore USA

Eight countries make up the core researchers for IPY Aliens in Antarctica (Netherlands, Japan, UK, Belgium, France, South Africa, Poland, and Australia)

A poster, a preliminary report on one aspect of this IPY project, was submitted by Dutch scientists (Nik Gremmen & Ad Huiskes) relating to their particular contribution. It was prepared for the Dutch Polar Symposium to mark the ending of the IPY.

800 people were sampled from 55 different voyages; the questionnaires consisted of 5600 responses.

The results of this study include:

• 30% of sampled visitors had plant seeds with them that belonged to 250 species.
• Camera bags, backpacks and footwear contain most seeds.
• Tourists and ship's crew carry seeds less often than National Programme personnel

For further information, contact Shyama Pagad, Manager Information Services, IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group, Regional Office for the Pacific, New Zealand (email: