Farewell to the Falklands from Dr. Steffi Carter

I am leaving the Falklands at the end of September and whilst I am very much looking forward to my next opportunities, I am still sad to leave the Falklands behind. I first arrived here four years to manage a Soil Mapping Project for SAERI which produced soil maps for a range of properties, including soil class, peat depth, organic matter, bulk density, erosion, erosion risk and chemical characteristics (e.g. nitrate-nitrogen, phosphate, potassium). The maps are available through a webGIS and a soil map interpretation guide is available on the project website.

This project was a brilliant opportunity to learn about Falklands soils whilst discovering many places few people had been to. Personal highlights include time spent in the Onion Range, walking on the Wickham Heights, driving on a crushed stone run at Port Howard, finding deep peat (4+ metres) in so many places, enjoying wildlife en route to the survey points, and many more experiences. This project would not have been possible without the fantastic support of landowners, for which I am very grateful.

A peaty valley inside the Onion Range

Once the Soil Mapping Project was completed, I jumped at the chance to manage another project for SAERI – similarly fieldwork heavy but this time investigating inland aquatic wetland waters instead of soil. The Wetlands Project gathered baseline data from lakes, pond, rivers and streams in regards to water chemistry and biota. We also installed data logging stations for long-monitoring of water level, water temperature and light levels, which will continue beyond the project and forms part of the project legacy. The project also produced an Indicator Monitoring Manual and recommendations for a Wetlands Action Plan to assist government and independent organisations with the long-term management of these diverse habitats.

Whilst soil explorations were highly enjoyable, the presence of water adds yet another bonus to fieldwork. Not surprisingly, fieldwork highlights coincided with warm, calm and sunny days, which emphasize how beautiful the Falklands aquatic landscapes are.

Fond memories include days spent at River Doyle and Doyle Ponds, Leicester Creek ponds, Ronda Pond at Salvador and seeing the lovely zebra trout Aplochiton sp. up close.

River Doyle with crystal clear water, stoneflies (centre) and Falkland minnows Galaxias maculatus (right).
Unnamed Doyle Pond with the project’s first and unexpected discovery of a land-locked minnow Galaxias maculatus population. Right-hand image shows dorsal view of a juvenile minnow.
Unnamed pond at Leicester Creek with clear water filled with water milfoil Myriophyllum quitense (right image), hosting an abundance of invertebrates, minnows Galaxias maculatus (centre image) and wildfowl including nesting white-tufted grebes Rollandia rolland rolland and yellow-billed pintails Anas georgica (the only ones spotted during the project fieldwork!).

Above video: The lovely zebra trout Aplochiton sp. There are two zebra trout species in the Falkland Islands – Aplochiton zebra and Aplochiton taeniatus –, which are difficult to tell apart superficially. The zebra trouts’ range has contracted much over the last few decades due to an expansion of the brown trout Salmo trutta population and is threatened with extinction within the next 70 years (Minett et al., 2021).

Research into the terrestrial and inland aquatic world has only just begun and no doubt, many more exciting projects will take place over the near and long-term future. What has struck me the most during my time in the Falklands are the environmental contrasts that I experienced in such a short period of time. Observations from my four years here are too short to be interpreted as trends, but the general consensus amongst landowners is that the land is getting drier and waterbodies are drying out more than they used to. This has knock-on effects for both wildlife and people: habitats are being altered or are disappearing and ‘camp life’ and livelihoods are under pressure as landowners adjust livestock numbers.

Future research projects will have to focus on understanding what the environmental long-term trends in the Falklands are but before any predictions can be made, robust baselines need to be established first. Once baselines and trends are known and possible future scenarios can be predicted, the next step then is to quantify the impact on wildlife and habitats. Simultaneously, the feasibility of a range of mitigation and management options should be investigated to identify the best solutions and ways forward. All of these queries can be addressed by exciting science projects, so there is plenty more work to be done here!

Minett, J. F., Fowler, D. M., Jones, J. A. H., Brickle, P., Crossin, G. T., Consuegra, S., & de Leaniz, C. G. (2021) Conservation of endangered galaxiid fishes in the Falkland Islands requires urgent action on invasive brown trout. bioRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.06.15.448501

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