Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Antarctica’s Fresh Fruit Threat

By Stephen Luntz

Fruit brought into Antarctica is contaminated by soil, bacteria and fungi.

An Australian Antarctic Division study of fruit and vegetables imported into Antarctica has warned that the local ecosystem could be under threat. Of more than 11,000 items tested, 12% had soil on them and 28% were infected with bacteria or fungi.

“The consequences of such introductions are, as yet, unknown, but are likely to impact upon existing microbial community structure, with implications for biogeochemistry and ecosystem functioning, and may cause disease in native plants and invertebrates,” conclude the authors in the journal Biological Conservation.

Insects also made it into Antarctica, with 56 invertebrates found. Most worryingly, insect activity was highest soon after stations were resupplied. Among the recommendations in the report are ensuring that fruit and vegetables have been cleaned prior to transport and avoiding food that needs to be cold-stored prior to shipping, as this may select for cold-adapted microorganisms.