Environmental factors influencing fine-scale distribution of Antarctica’s only endemic insect

Leslie J. Potts, J. D. Gantz, Yuta Kawarasaki, Benjamin N. Philip, David J. Gonthier, Audrey D. Law, Luke Moe, Jason M. Unrine, Rebecca L. McCulley, Richard E. Lee, David L. Denlinger, Nicholas M. Teets

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Species distributions are dependent on interactions with abiotic and biotic factors in the environment. Abiotic factors like temperature, moisture, and soil nutrients, along with biotic interactions within and between species, can all have strong influences on spatial distributions of plants and animals. Terrestrial Antarctic habitats are relatively simple and thus good systems to study ecological factors that drive species distributions and abundance. However, these environments are also sensitive to perturbation, and thus understanding the ecological drivers of species distribution is critical for predicting responses to environmental change. The Antarctic midge, Belgica antarctica, is the only endemic insect on the continent and has a patchy distribution along the Antarctic Peninsula. While its life history and physiology are well studied, factors that underlie variation in population density within its range are unknown. Previous work on Antarctic microfauna indicates that distribution over broad scales is primarily regulated by soil moisture, nitrogen content, and the presence of suitable plant life, but whether these patterns are true over smaller spatial scales has not been investigated. Here we sampled midges across five islands on the Antarctic Peninsula and tested a series of hypotheses to determine the relative influences of abiotic and biotic factors on midge abundance. While historical literature suggests that Antarctic organisms are limited by the abiotic environment, our best-supported hypothesis indicated that abundance is predicted by a combination of abiotic and biotic conditions. Our results are consistent with a growing body of literature that biotic interactions are more important in Antarctic ecosystems than historically appreciated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-539
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).


  • Abiotic environment
  • Antarctic midge
  • Biotic influences
  • Spatial distribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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