Articles | Volume 6, issue 2
Solid Earth, 6, 583–594, 2015

Special issue: Soil processes in cold-climate environments

Solid Earth, 6, 583–594, 2015

Research article 27 May 2015

Research article | 27 May 2015

Soil–landform–plant-community relationships of a periglacial landscape on Potter Peninsula, maritime Antarctica

E. L. Poelking1, C. E. R. Schaefer2, E. I. Fernandes Filho2, A. M. de Andrade3, and A. A. Spielmann4 E. L. Poelking et al.
  • 1Centro de Ciências Agrárias Ambientais e Biológicas, Universidade Federal do Recôncavo da Bahia, Brazil
  • 2Departamento de Solos, Universidade Federal de Viçosa, Brazil
  • 3Departamento de Geografia, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
  • 4Centro de Ciências Biológicas e da Saúde, Universidade Federal do Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil

Abstract. Integrated studies on the interplay between soils, periglacial geomorphology and plant communities are crucial for the understanding of climate change effects on terrestrial ecosystems of maritime Antarctica, one of the most sensitive areas to global warming. Knowledge on physical environmental factors that influence plant communities can greatly benefit studies on the monitoring of climate change in maritime Antarctica, where new ice-free areas are being constantly exposed, allowing plant growth and organic carbon inputs. The relationship between topography, plant communities and soils was investigated on Potter Peninsula, King George Island, maritime Antarctica. We mapped the occurrence and distribution of plant communities and identified soil–landform–vegetation relationships. The vegetation map was obtained by classification of a QuickBird image, coupled with detailed landform and characterization of 18 soil profiles. The sub-formations were identified and classified, and we also determined the total elemental composition of lichens, mosses and grasses. Plant communities on Potter Peninsula occupy 23% of the ice-free area, at different landscape positions, showing decreasing diversity and biomass from the coastal zone to inland areas where sub-desert conditions prevail. There is a clear dependency between landform and vegetated soils. Soils that have greater moisture or are poorly drained, and with acid to neutral pH, are favourable for moss sub-formations. Saline, organic-matter-rich ornithogenic soils of former penguin rookeries have greater biomass and diversity, with mixed associations of mosses and grasses, while stable felsenmeers and flat rocky cryoplanation surfaces are the preferred sites for Usnea and Himantormia lugubris lichens at the highest surface. Lichens sub-formations cover the largest vegetated area, showing varying associations with mosses.