Port Lockroy Blogs

23 February 2015: Botany and Bosses

Lambs reportsFollowing on from my last blog which looked at the geology of Goudier Island I decided to investigate the plant life which lives upon these rocks. As I have no experience in this field I had to find some information before I could ‘teach myself Antarctic lichens in a day’. Thankfully, as I’m sure you may know, Base A was used by scientists from 1944-62 and I was fortunate to find a report in the Base Leader’s Office called “Operation Tabarin – Botany” written by Ivan Mackenzie Lamb in October 1944.

Ivan was a member of the first team to live at Port Lockroy and as well as surveying work, he also set up an experimental garden on the island. Using soil imported from the Falkland Islands he was able to demonstrate that some plants could survive a full year in the Antarctic, despite the harsh environmental conditions.

Buellia AnisomeraHis report suggests that they collected 144 lichen specimens in the area, although several of these comprised of variations within species as noted in reference to Charcot’s Pourquoi Pas Expedition (1908-10), who state they collected “32 species of lichen”. Lamb disputed this number as he believed that they were in fact “…growth states or ecological variants of one and the same species”. He does however praise their work and by using the information from the Pourquoi Pas report was able to identify many of the variants that they found around Port Lockroy. It is believed that there could be up to 700 species of lichen in Antarctica - I am unclear as to the amount found around Goudier, but it would appear to include 2 main families, the Buellia genus and the Rinodina genus.

Marine LichenWhat makes Goudier Island so interesting is its small size – this not only allowed the men to study the whole island, but due to its environmental conditions limits which species can survive here. Goudier Island at its highest rises only 40 feet above sea level, therefore all of the lichens are affected by salt water; either by submersion in the sea (hydrohaline zone) or by being exposed to salt in atmospheric suspension (aerohaline zone).

I mainly started researching this topic to attempt to find a lichen thought to be unique to Port Lockroy, a strictly marine version of Verucaria muscosa - “...elsewhere it has only been found in the upper part of [the hydrohaline] zone, where it is periodically exposed to the air by the tides”. This, Ivan suggests, would be “the first know instance of a completely marine lichen in the strictest sense of the word”, as it is “apparently never above water”.

Verucaria Mucosa above waterBy this point I had read Lamb’s report and his follow up “BAS Scientific Report No. 61 – Antarctic Lichens II” so set off with my camera on a lichen hunt. I must admit it has been very difficult to confidently identify anything using black and white photographs with hand written notes and at this stage, the only thing I can say with any certainty is that I photographed 12 different-looking lichens on our island. However, as shown with past studies, these may well be variations within species.

I do however think I was able to identify 4 individual types which could include; Mastodia tesselata (a lichenised version of the green algae called Prasiola Crispa), Buellia anisomera, Lithophyllum (a Calcarious algea) and Verucaria Mucosa (both the inter-tidal version and the completely submerged version).

Mastodia TesselataAfter talking to Lichenologists from expedition ships, they seemed convinced by my interpretation regarding the strict marine lichen, but weren't entirely convinced by my classifications – this could however be due to my outdated text book, as Mastodia Tesselata is now actually called Turgidosculum Complicatulum… I think.

In summary, regardless of what it’s called or what it looks like, I believe I did find the strictly marine variation of lichen as described by Lamb although, as I have only lived here for 4 months, it may be possible that at different times in the season the sea level could drop to expose this to the air. Either way I feel I have learned a little bit more about the wonderful place in which we are all living.

Anna Camilla and Nigel leavingUnfortunately, this only highlights the short period of time left for us to share this information as the team and I will be heading home in about 2 more weeks. With this in mind we are continuing to stay busy with inventories, maintenance tasks and ship visits.

During one of these visits we had the pleasure of welcoming Camilla Nichol and Anna Malaos from our UKAHT offices, as well as Nigel Watson from our sister organisation the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust (https://www.nzaht.org/). The team are visiting our heritage sites in Antarctica to access the future conservation work that will be needed at these sites. I wish them safe travels and look forward to hearing how they got on when I return to Cambridge in April. Until then we will keep working hard to prepare the Base for the long winter ahead.

As we will soon be saying our goodbyes here, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the UKAHT for this amazing experience, our supporters the world over and most importantly the 2014/15 Lockroy team, who have made this season such a good one.

Skinner

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