Conservation of Southern Ocean Islands: invertebrates as exemplars

27 October 2010

The Southern Ocean Islands (SOI) have an exceptionally high conservation status, and human activity on the islands is low by comparison with more tropical islands. In consequence, overexploitation, pollution and habitat destruction have had little influence on the invertebrate biotas of the islands, although overexploitation of pelagic species has the potential for an indirect influence via reduction of nutrient inputs to the terrestrial systems. By contrast, invasive alien species, the local effects of global climate change, and interactions between them are having large impacts on invertebrate populations and, as a consequence, on ecosystem functioning. Climate change is not only having direct impacts on indigenous invertebrates, but also seems to be promoting the ease of establishment of new alien invertebrate species. It is also contributing to population increases of invertebrate alien species already on the islands, sometimes with pronounced negative consequences for indigenous species and ecosystem functioning. Moreover, alien plants and mammals are also affecting indigenous invertebrate populations, often with climate change expected to exacerbate the impacts. Although the conservation requirements are reasonably well-understood for terrestrial systems, knowledge of freshwater and marine near-shore systems is inadequate. Nonetheless, what is known for terrestrial, freshwater and marine systems suggests that ongoing conservation of SOI invertebrates requires intervention from the highest political levels internationally, to slow climate change, to local improvements of quarantine measures to reduce the rates and impacts of biological invasions.