The Antarctic realm is one of eight terrestrial biogeographic realms. The ecosystem includes Antarctica and several island groups in the southern Atlantic and Indian oceans. The continent of Antarctica is so cold that it has supported only 2 vascular plants for millions of years, and its flora presently consists of around 250 lichens, 100 mosses, 25-30 liverworts, and around 700 terrestrial and aquatic algal species, which live on the areas of exposed rock and soil around the shore of the continent. Antarctica's two flowering plant species, the Antarctic hair grass and Antarctic pearlwort, are found on the northern and western parts of the Antarctic Peninsula. Antarctica is also home to a diversity of animal life, including penguins, seals, and whales.
Several Antarctic and sub-Antarctic island groups are considered part of the Antarctic realm, including Bouvet Island, the Crozet Islands, Heard Island, the Kerguelen Islands, the McDonald Islands, the Prince Edward Islands, the South Georgia Group, the South Orkney Islands, the South Sandwich Islands, and the South Shetland Islands. These islands have a somewhat milder climate than Antarctica proper, and support a greater diversity of tundra plants, although they are all too windy and cold to support trees.
Antarctic krill is the keystone species of the ecosystem of the Southern Ocean, and is an important food organism for whales, seals, leopard seals, fur seals, crabeater seals, squid, icefish, penguins, albatrosses and many other birds. The ocean there is so full of phytoplankton because water rises from the depths to the light-flooded surface, bringing nutrients from all oceans back to the photic zone.
On August 20, 2014, scientists confirmed the existence of microorganisms living 800 metres below the ice of Antarctica.