« back | more news »      


Professor Steven Chown accepting the Martha T. Muse Prize from Renate Rennie, Chairman of the Tinker Foundation. Photo: John Petter Reinertsen, SAMPHOTO

Professor Steven Chown, director and core team member of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology, is the recipient of the inaugural Martha T. Muse Prize for Science and Policy in Antarctica. This prestigious prize was awarded for the first time at the 4th International Polar Year Conference held in Oslo, Norway, in June 2010.

The Martha T. Muse award ( is given by the Tinker Foundation, a funding organisation with a special interest in Antarctica, to individuals that contribute to the science- and policy related understanding of Antarctica and helps preserve the region’s biological diversity for future generations. The Prize, carrying a monetary award of US$100,000, is administered by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR).

The award recognises Professor Chown’s status as a world leader in his field, his work with invasive alien species on the snowy continent, as well as the effects of climate change and the many years of human inhabitation in the region. In his Prize lecture he explained how global environmental changes could potentially influence the biodiversity of the sensitive Antarctic ecosystem. To illustrate this, he showed results from the small, sub-Antarctic island Marion Island, where his has done remarkable research over the past years.

Professor Steven Chown delivering his Prize lecture at the IPY Oslo Science Conference in June 2010. Photo: John Petter Reinertsen, SAMPHOTO.

“On Marion Island, the average temperature has increased by 1.5 degrees over past 50-60 years, and the annual precipitation has decreased by 600 millimeters” Prof. Chown explained. He also showed photographs from the 1960s and compared them to photographs taken in 2009, demonstrating how deeply interlinked climate change and biodiversity are and the major changes that have been observed over the past fifty years.

Alongside the concern for the effect of climate change on the biodiversity of these regions, the world has also witnessed a dramatic increase in biological invasions over the past fifty years. Because of past human activities, non-native species were brought in accidentally, and it is known that they have an impact on the native biodiversity. A part of Chown’s research is exploring how the impact will interact with climate change.

“The Antarctic is a very special place, being basically free from invasive species at most sites due to the absence of human interventions. However, we find more and more alien species on the sub-Antarctic islands,” Chown said.

He presented data showing the correlation between the increased number of visits to the islands, and the increase in numbers of alien species. The more occupants in an area, the more likely are alien species. This is true for mammals, vascular plants, and insects. One example is that of Mediterranean mussels that are transported to the islands on the hull of ships.

Chown ended his lecture by expressing his hope for the next generation of Antarctic scientists.

“I hope they will look back and say that the 4th International Polar Year really changed the way things are done,” he said. “May our future scientists be able to say that we succeeded as scientists and as people, and that we no longer have the problems that our ancestors had,” he concluded.

To view the webcast click