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Title: Ecology of Antarctic vegetation
Author: Smith, R. I. L.
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 1990
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My extensive studies throughout the maritime Antarctic allowed me to discover many new localities where the two Antarctic vascular plants (Colobanthus quitensis and Deschampsia antarctica) occur, including extending their known range to the farthest south site in the world for flowering plants. As a result of my interest in the cryptogamic flora of the maritime Antarctic, and because of my knowledge of the aquatic bryophytes of the Signy Island, I was invited to examine material of the farthest south collection of an aquatic moss by a team of American limnologists. This led to a brief review of Antarctic aquatic mosses [a related study of aquatic bryophytes from the highest Scottish lochs is referred to here, but is not included as part of the Doctorate submission]. An interesting situation has developed over the past 20 years at Signy Island. This concerns the interaction between a rapidly increasing population of fur seals (from a few dozen in 1965 to 13,350 in 1987) and the fragile and highly vulnerable plant communities. Much of the island's vegetation has been devastated or eradicated during the past five years and I have been able to quantitatively assess the changes induced by the seals by reanalysing several of precisely the same sites I studied 20 years earlier. During an ecological survey of part of Livingston Island, South Shetland Islands, and having an increasing interest in the spread of fur seals and their impact on terrestrial ecosystems, I undertood an investigation of the early history of the Antarctic fur seal industry in the 1800s and of the 'archaeological' sites (sealers' refuges) which abound on that island. My ecophysiological research included a study of the influence of growth-form on the water relations of mosses at Signy Island. Some comparable studies at a continental site are being prepared for an international symposium in Kiel, West Germany, September 1987. Several studies have been made of the chemistry of South Georgia and Signy Island plants, including one on the amount of DNA in the chromosomes of alien and native vascular species; low DNA levels in the former category of plants at South Georgia and in Europe have provided a possible explanation for the survival of certain plants under extreme climatic conditions. A review paper on plant nutrient cycling in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic was an invited keynote presentation read at a major international symposium in South Africa. Ecological studies at both South Georgia and throughout the maritime Antarctic resulted in extensive collections of all plant groups being made. Many accounts by specialists in bryophyte and lichen taxonomy have been published based on these collections, but I have published several largely ecological papers on fungi and introduced vascular plants, including stranded trees. The combined studies of tussock grass, plant communities, the ecology and chemistry of individual native and introduced phanerogams (especially Poa annua) on South Georgia, in conjunction with a major study of the introduced reindeer on that island by another biologist, has led to a series of papers on the impact of reindeer on the vegetation. The wide spectrum of my research has allowed me to build up a high degree of first-hand knowledge and expertise in Antarctic and sub-Antarctic plant ecology, and of biological and environmental features generally. Consequently, I have written several general or popular accounts, as well as major review works. More recently I have also become involved in matters concerning conservation areas (Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Specially Protected Areas), environmental impact and conservation policy as it relates to national activities throughout the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic biomes. I co-edited a book on conservation areas in the Antarctic, writing eleven of the SPA/SSSI accounts from first-hand experience of each.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.Sc.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available