Terrestrial biodiversity along the Ross Sea coastline, Antarctica: lack of a latitudinal gradient and potential limits of bioclimatic modeling

C. Colesie*, T. G.A. Green, R. Türk, I. D. Hogg, L. G. Sancho, B. Büdel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Antarctica has several apparent advantages for the study of biodiversity change along latitudinal gradients including a relatively pristine environment and simple community structures. Published analyses for lichens and mosses show no apparent gradient in biodiversity along the western Ross Sea coast line, the longest ice-free area in Antarctica spanning 14° latitude. One suggestion is that the area remains poorly surveyed. Here, we combine available species lists from four sites along the coast with new own data from two additional sites [Taylor Valley (77°30′S) and Diamond Hill (79°S)]. We show a decline in total terrestrial biodiversity with latitude from Cape Hallett (72°S) to Diamond Hill. However, the southernmost site, the Queen Maud Mountains (84°S), is exceptional with almost the same diversity as Cape Hallett. A categorization of lichens according to their proposed ecology shows the proportion of tolerant species remains relatively constant. However, the absolute number of conformant species declines with latitude, again with a minimum at Diamond Hill. Similarity indices are low and not very different between sites with Diamond Hill being the exception with very few species. We suggest that terrestrial biodiversity best reflects microhabitat water availability rather than macroclimatic temperature changes and use climate data from Taylor Valley and Diamond Hill to support this suggestion. We propose that the importance of microhabitats and landscape location is one of several possible limitations to the application of bioclimatic modeling along the Ross sea coastline. In the absence of a definitive link between macroclimate and the biota, predicting the effects of climate changes will be more challenging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1197-1208
Number of pages12
JournalPolar biology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2014


  • Antarctic biodiversity
  • Bioclimatic envelope
  • Biogeography
  • Diamond Hill
  • Lichens
  • Microclimate


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