Most associate the continent of Antarctica with great expanses of ice, freezing temperatures and colonies of penguins — not with rich biodiversity. According to Steven Chown, a professor of biological sciences at Monash University in Australia, Antarctica and its surrounding oceans are teeming with life.

On Thursday afternoon, Chown came to speak on this biodiversity and the future of Antarctica at Yale’s Environmental Science Center. The talk was part of the Max Planck – Yale Center for Biodiversity Movement and Global Change seminar series.

“The future of Antarctica and its biodiversity is of clear and present global significance to everyone — the source may be distant, but the signal is loud,” Chown said.

Chown serves as the president and Australian delegate to the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research and the chair of the National Committee for Antarctic Research of the Australian Academy of Science. According to Chown, modern communication technologies have made it easier to balance his work in Australia and Antarctica. He explained that much of the Antarctic field season is in the southern hemisphere’s summer, which overlaps with summer vacation for universities, allowing him to manage university responsibilities and communications through technology while in the Antarctic.

Chown began the seminar by discussing the marine and terrestrial diversities of the continent and Southern Ocean, the ocean surrounding Antarctica. Through the examples of organisms such as birds and plankton, Chown explained that the structure of diversity in the Antarctic is both ecologically familiar and unfamiliar in many ways.

According to Chown, Antarctica is in a unique geopolitical position. Antarctica does not belong to any one country, according to the Antarctic Treaty, which was put into international law in 1959. This geopolitical position has kept Antarctica rather pristine and protected for the past few decades, Chown said.

Transitioning to the topic of policy and protection of biodiversity, Chown spoke on the importance of protecting the Antarctic environment. He noted that many consider Antarctica to be the gold-standard for conservation, but current data is proving otherwise. He explained that scientists have conducted research and experiments on the continent with little regard for any damage they leave in their wake.

Delivering a serious but optimistic message, Chown emphasized that the impact of local human activities and global environmental change pose challenges to Antarctic biodiversity and the preservation of the relatively untouched continent.

The MPYC seminar series, which falls under the umbrella of the Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change, typically selects speakers who can address findings, issues and methods around biodiversity and global change broadly, according to Walter Jetz, director of the Center and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

“[Chown] is the world authority on the biodiversity of Antarctic research in a policy context and a highly respected ecologist addressing continental and global systems,” Jetz said. “His work addresses the basic scientific underpinning of Antarctic biodiversity and provides guidance for policy. This bridge between biodiversity science and decision-making touches on many disciplines and is exactly the sort of interdepartmental issue that the Center is keen to bring to the Yale community.”

Attendee Sophie Westacott GRD ’22 explained that she came to the seminar out of curiosity related to her own interests—Westacott studies diatoms, a type of plankton, and their links to the Southern Ocean.

According to Jetz, the Center has seminars roughly every other week during the semester and usually hosts one workshop or symposium per semester.

MPYC, which officially opened in May 2018, is a partnership between the Center and the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell. It is one of several international Max Planck Centers, which work to connect Max Planck Institutes with international partners for enhanced scientific collaboration, according to MPYC’s website.

Madison Mahoney | .