Antarctic Ecozone

Antarctica is one of Earth’s eight ecozones. The Antarctic ecozone includes Antarctica and several island groups in the southern Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The island groups included in this ecosystem include South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, South Orkney Islands, South Shetland Islands, Bouvet Island, the Crozet Islands, Prince Edward Islands, Heard Island, the Kerguelen Islands, and the McDonald Islands. These islands have milder climates than Antarctica and support a greater diversity of plant life, although they are still too cold and windy to support trees.

The continent of Antarctica is so cold and dry that only a few plant families are capable of surviving there. Flora consists of about 250 lichens, 100 mosses, 25 liverworts, and nearly 700 terrestrial and aquatic algal species. Most of these species are found on the outer edges and shores of the continent. There are two flowering plant species found on Antarctica, the Antarctic Hair Grass (Deschampsia antarctica) and the Antarctic Pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis). These plants are found on the northern and western regions of the continent. The Antarctica ecosystem is also home to several animal species including penguins, seals, whales, squid, albatrosses, and other seabirds. The ocean here is full of phytoplankton which thrive due to the water cycle that brings nutrients from all the other oceans back to this region.

Antarctica was warmer and wetter a million years ago and supported more diverse plant life including forests of southern beech and conifers. Antarctica was also part of the Gondwanaland super continent that gradually broke up starting 110 million years ago. South America and Antarctica separated 30 to 35 million years ago, which allowed the Antarctic Circumpolar Current to form. This current isolated Antarctica and eventually caused it to become much colder. Plant species that eventually became extinct on Antarctica, still thrive today in the southern Neotropic and Australasia ecosystems (both former parts of Gondwanaland).

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