[Extract] Antarctic ecosystems represent one extreme of the continuum of environmental conditions across the planet. To our eyes, the environment appears harsh but, even though terrestrial biological diversity is restricted, a wide range of life is present and, locally, thrives. In the Antarctic, unusually, environments exist in which physical characteristics are dominant and overcome biological considerations. These are at the extreme ends of the ranges of many characteristics (temperature, snow, ice and solar radiation) found across environments globally. However, the Antarctic is also a large continent, comparable in area to continental Europe, and further surrounded by the cold Southern Ocean, within which lie a ring of subantarctic islands. Together, these islands and the continent give a natural environmental gradient with which to study the biological impacts of climate variables. Antarctica is also a focus for studies of responses to regional and global change (eg Bergstrom and Chown 1999, Convey 2001, 2003, Robinson et al. 2003). Some of the fastest changing regions on earth (air temperatures along the western Antarctic Peninsula and Scotia Arc) are found here (King and Haranzogo 1998, Skvarca et al. 1998, Smith 2002, Quayle et al. 2002, 2003). Evaluations of change in this area are expected to provide a vital ‘early warning system’ for change consequences worldwide (Convey et al. 2003a, b). This chapter addresses an area central to our ability to understand and evaluate biotic responses to climate change predictions – that of organism physiology.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/srobinson/4/