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    Destruction of Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems by a rapidly increasing fur seal population

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    R.I. Lewis Smith (United Kingdom)

    The terrestrial environment of Signy Island, South Orkney Islands, maritime Antarctic, is undergoing rapid and possibly irreversible change caused by a natural biological agent. During the past decade there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Antarctic fur seals Arctocephalus gazella coming ashore on the island during the short summers. It is not known whether significant numbers of seals were present on the island prior to the initiation of commercial hunting in the early 1820s. The impact that the continuing increase of these seals had made on the island's terrestrial and freshwater environments has been sudden and locally devastating. The fragile cryptogam-dominated vegetation has suffered physical damage from which it may be impossible to recover. These seals are also frequenting several of the island's freshtwater lakes which are becoming increasingly eutrophic. The long-term implications of this impact are causing serious concern for the future of the lowland terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems on Signy Island if the fur seal population continues to increase