An Introductory Guide to the Flora of Antarctica
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree LevelPostgraduate Certificate
Degree NamePostgraduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies
Antarctica is the southernmost continent on Earth and is well known for its extreme cold conditions (Singh and Singh, 2011). The terrestrial biodiversity of the Antarctic is relatively low and simple compared to that of regions at higher latitudes on Earth, with many higher taxonomic groups not represented (Chown, 2007; Bednarek-Ochyra et al., 2000; Hughes and Convey, 2010; Pisa et al., 2014). There are no terrestrial vertebrates in Antarctica, and faunal communities consist of invertebrates: Diptera (two species of midges), Acari (mites), Collembola (springtails), Nematoda, Rotifera, Tardigrada and Protista (Convey, 2007; Hughes, 2010). Antarctica is the only continent in the world to have a flora that is dominated by lower plant groups, predominantly Cryptogams (Peat et al., 2007). There are no trees or shrubs in Antarctica and the diversity of terrestrial vegetation is restricted to five major plant groups: phanerogams (seed-producing flowering plants); and the spore producing Cryptogams bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), lichens, algae and blue-green algae or cyanobacteria (Coenraads and Koivula, 2007; Lewis-Smith, 20071 ). Cryptogams play a vital role in the energy flow and nutrient cycling of the Antarctic terrestrial ecosystem. They also provide viable habitat for invertebrates, and can influence soil moisture and temperature regimes, e.g. moss communities create their own microclimates (Bednarek-Ochyra et al., 2000). Fungi, algae and cyanobacteria also play a central role in the stabilisation of mineral soils, which are a key prerequisite for the secondary stages of plant colonisation and community development (Wierzchos, 2007).