Researchers scoured the clothes and boots of tourists and scientists visiting the continent and found that most were carrying plant seeds.”People in the past have been sceptical, saying, ‘It’s largely ice-covered so it’s unlikely that plants will establish themselves’,” said lead researcher Steven Chown from Stellenbosch University in South Africa.”[They’re] forgetting that probably less than 1%, but still a significant area, is ice-free – some of that’s in the peninsula region, and it’s been warming very quickly.”
Many islands in the sub-Antarctic region have seen significant ecological changes due to invasive species that have either arrived accidentally or deliberately. The research team believes that the Antarctic Peninsula and some other areas around the continent’s coast could see similar changes in decades to come.
During International Polar Year in 2007-08, the research team took samples from tourists and tourism operators, and scientists and their support staff. The places that tourists visit tend to be the warmest bits of the continent – which are also the places where seeds are most likely to survive.The researchers found that although many of the seeds originated in South America, a large number came from the Northern Hemisphere.