Non-indigenous microorganisms in the Antarctic: assessing the risks24 November 2011
The Antarctic continent is frequently cited as the last pristine continent on Earth. However, this view is misleading for several reasons. First, there has been a rapid increase in visitors to Antarctica, with large increases at research bases and their environs and to sites of major tourist interest (e.g. historical sites and concentrations of megafauna). Second, although substantial efforts are made to avoid physical disturbance and contamination by chemical, human and other wastes at these sites, little has been done to prevent the introduction of non-indigenous microorganisms. Here, we analyse the extent and significance of anthropogenic introduction of microbial ‘contaminants’ to the Antarctic continent. We conclude that such processes are unlikely to have any immediate gross impact on microbiological community structure or function, but that increased efforts are required to protect the unique ecosystems of Antarctica from microbial and genetic contamination and homogenisation.