Moss diversity across Antarctica and the implications for conservation
Mosses play a key role in Antarctic ecosystems, providing habitat for various organisms and influencing carbon and water cycles. Despite their ecological importance, our understanding of moss distribution and diversity across Antarctica has been largely focused on specific regions, hindering comprehensive continent-wide analysis to aid effective conservation management. In this study, we compiled moss presence data spanning the entire Antarctic continent to assess diversity and composition variation across its regions and protected areas. We also investigated the environmental drivers of moss richness patterns to understand where moss species are most likely to occur. Our analysis revealed that while protected areas capture a substantial proportion of Antarctica’s moss diversity, there is also dissimilarity in community composition among these areas. This outcome emphasizes the necessity of treating conservation areas as distinct ecological units and highlights the importance of region-specific conservation planning for moss preservation. Furthermore, our investigation into environmental drivers showed correlations between moss richness and key variables, including latitude, temperature, elevation, terrain, and proximity to bird colonies and geothermal sites. These findings highlight the environmental characteristics of regions where moss species are more likely to occur, which is fundamental for evidence-based decision-making in conservation, as Antarctica’s protected areas may not effectively cover its biodiversity. Overall, this study advances our understanding of moss spatial distribution and diversity across the Antarctica Treaty Area, highlighting the unique composition of its protected areas and underscoring the need to enhance conservation and management strategies in Antarctica.