Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Increasing Antarctic Tourism Threatens Penguins

Published On: Tue, Dec 23rd, 2014 | Zoology | By BioNews
Scientists warn that growing tourism along with global warming threaten the Antarctic’s ecosystem, since visitors bring bacteria and virus and wildlife lacks immunity to infectious diseases.

“The effects of both a growing tourism industry and research presence will not be without consequences,” says Wray Grimaldi of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, New Scientist magazine reports.

Scientists believe species near the South Pole have weaker immune systems due to their isolation from the rest of the world. Humans didn’t visit the continent until the 1800s. Between 2013 and 2014, 37,000 people visited the area as the tourist industry continues to grow. That doesn’t include the 4,400 researchers that can be found in the Antarctic in peak months.

Penguins are highly susceptible to infectious diseases.The team also found evidence of a number of mass penguin mortality events across the Antarctic since 1969. The Avian pox virus killed more than 400 penguins in 2006 , and caused 60 per cent mortality rates throughout another outbreak in 2008.
Grimaldi says disease agents may have arrived in Antarctica via migrating birds like skuas or giant petrels, although some pathogenic bacteria could have been introduced by humans. There isn’t enough evidence to test either possibility, she says.

Yet, as the climate warms, more birds are expected to visit Antarctic regions, bringing their pathogens with them, while diseases borne by other animals could expand their ranges southwards.

Wray W. Grimaldi. Infectious diseases of Antarctic penguins: current status and future threats. Polar Biology. DOI: 10.1007/s00300-014-1632-5


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