View from Macquarie Island Plateau, photo courtesy of J. Selkirk-Bell
View from Macquarie Island Plateau, photo courtesy of J. Selkirk-Bell

Macquarie Island

Macquarie Island, Nature Reserve and World Heritage Area at 54°S 159°E is one of six subantarctic island groups. In geological terms, it is tectonically uplifted ocean floor material.

Since 1978, Macquarie University – in collaboration with Australian Antarctic Division, Australian National University, University of Newcastle and University of Melbourne – has contributed extensively to understanding the island’s ecosystems, landforms and geomorphic processes.

Our research has led to more than 100 publications, including the book Subantarctic Macquarie Island: Environment and Biology.

We have documented biodiversity in feldmark plants, lake diatoms and lake invertebrates, increasing the number of species known from each of these habitats.

Our additions include three species endemic to Macquarie Island and new to science:

  •   one freshwater diatom species
  •   one ground orchid species
  •   and the first plant virus species from the subantarctic.

The research was carried out by our staff, graduate students and Honorary Associates Dr Patricia Selkirk, the late Associate Professor Don Adamson, Dr Dana Bergstrom, Dr Helen Keenan, Dr Jennifer Selkirk-Bell, Dr Michael Wilson, Dr Herbert Dartnall and Dr Patrick McBride.

We calculated an average rate of uplift for the island of 0.8mm per year and estimated its emergence above the sea approximately 700,000 years ago. In the cool, wet, very windy subantarctic climate, erosive processes are active.

We investigated slope stability, sand blowouts, and the processes of erosion and deposition that maintain the spectacular vegetation-banked terraces on the island’s plateau.

As aspects of environmental change are observed on the island, data from our earlier studies are providing valuable points of comparison, informing interpretation of change and management recommendations.

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