The main goal of AnT-ERA is to facilitate the science required to examine changes in biological processes, from the molecular to the ecosystem level, in Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. Tolerance limits as well as thresholds, resistance and resilience to environmental change will be determined.
The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal...” Current and projected climate changes are unprecedented in magnitude and rate and pose major threats to ecosystem functioning, services, and integrity. Areas along the Antarctic Peninsula are warming faster than anywhere on Earth (except the Arctic) while in other Antarctic areas temperatures are relatively unchanged, in part due to the ozone hole. The many species living in warmed and unchanged areas provide an opportunity to compare the resilience of all levels of biological organisation in all major Antarctic environments, terrestrial, freshwater, and marine pelagic and benthic. Such “natural experimental conditions” exist in very few places on Earth. Because polar ecosystems are rapidly changing, it is pressing that we learn what vulnerabilities exist and where the tipping points are so that within the next 10 years we can inform global climate-change policy. Otherwise, a unique opportunity may be lost.
Stresses on Antarctic ecosystems result from global climate change, including extreme events, and from other human impacts. Consequently, Antarctic ecosystems are changing, some at a rapid pace while others are relatively stable. A cascade of responses from molecular through organismic to the community level are expected.
The differences in biological complexity and evolutionary histories between the polar regions and the rest of the planet suggest that stresses on polar ecosystem function may have fundamentally different outcomes from those at lower latitudes. Polar ecosystem processes are therefore key to informing wider ecological debate about the nature of stability and potential changes across the biosphere.