Occurrence of the non-native annual bluegrass on the Antarctic mainland and its negative effects on native plants

Conserv Biol. 2012 Aug;26(4):717-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01865.x. Epub 2012 May 24.


Few non-native species have colonized Antarctica, although increased human activity and accelerated climate change may increase their number, distributional range, and effects on native species on the continent. We searched 13 sites on the maritime Antarctic islands and 12 sites on the Antarctic Peninsula for annual bluegrass (Poa annua), a non-native flowering plant. We also evaluated the possible effects of competition between P. annua and 2 vascular plants native to Antarctica, Antarctic pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis) and Antarctic hairgrass (Deschampsia antarctica). We grew the native species in experimental plots with and without annual bluegrass under conditions that mimicked the Antarctic environment. After 5 months, we measured photosynthetic performance on the basis of chlorophyll fluorescence and determined total biomass of both native species. We found individual specimens of annual bluegrass at 3 different sites on the Antarctic Peninsula during the 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 austral summers. The presence of bluegrass was associated with a statistically significant reduction in biomass of pearlwort and hairgrass, whereas the decrease in biomass of bluegrass was not statistically significant. Similarly, the presence of bluegrass significantly reduced the photosynthetic performance of the 2 native species. Sites where bluegrass occurred were close to major maritime routes of scientific expeditions and of tourist cruises to Antarctica. We believe that if current levels of human activity and regional warming persist, more non-native plant species are likely to colonize the Antarctic and may affect native species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antarctic Regions
  • Caryophyllaceae / growth & development*
  • Caryophyllaceae / metabolism
  • Climate Change
  • Human Activities
  • Humans
  • Introduced Species*
  • Poa / growth & development*
  • Poa / metabolism
  • Poaceae / growth & development*
  • Poaceae / metabolism
  • Seasons
  • Species Specificity