Polar Biology

, Volume 31, Issue 7, pp 817–825 | Cite as

Species diversity and random distribution of microfauna in extremely isolated habitable patches on Antarctic nunataks

  • B. Sohlenius
  • S. Boström
Original Paper


Populations of metazoan microfauna (nematodes, rotifers and tardigrades) are patchily distributed on mountain outcrops penetrating the ice sheet (nunataks) in continental Antarctica. The abundance and fauna composition of microscopic animals vary greatly also among samples from similar types of habitats. Occurrence of similar seemingly habitable sites without microfauna and sites with various combinations of animal taxa indicates that stochastic colonization processes as well as local environmental factors and historical factors influence faunal composition in a specific habitable patch. The abundance of nematodes, rotifers and tardigrades in various combinations of co-occurrence was analyzed. One objective was to investigate if biotic interactions structuring these simple communities could be observed. The 368 samples analysed originate from three kinds of habitats, viz. mosses, ornithogenic soils and fellfield soils, obtained from 14 nunataks in Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica. It is suggested that high population densities of any of the three animal groups, when they were found alone and lower densities, when they coexisted with other taxa could indicate the presence of competition or predation. However, the great variability in microfauna densities for similar habitable patches made it difficult to find significant differences among population densities in samples with varying complexity.


Antarctic nunataks Competition Fellfield Moss Nematodes Ornithogenic soil Predation Rotifers Tardigrades 



We are grateful to the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat for providing transport and facilities for K. Ingemar Jönsson, who conducted the field sampling in Antarctica in 2001/02; for Cecilia Eriksson, who made the sampling in 1993/94 and 1996/97 and for Göran Thor, who made the sampling in 1991/92. Kent Larsson is thanked for providing the map. Ingegerd Sohlenius is thanked for technical assistance. Helpful comments on the manuscript were given by two anonymous referees.


  1. Barrett JE, Virginia RA, Wall DH, Parsons AN, Powers LE, Burkins MB (2004) Variation in biogeochemistry and soil biodiversity across spatial scales in a polar desert ecosystem. Ecology 85:3105–3118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barrett JE, Virginia RA, Wall DH, Cary SC, Adams BJ, Hacker AL, Aislabie JM (2006) Co-variation in soil biodiversity and biogeochemistry in northern and southern Victoria Land, Antarctica. Antarct Sci 18:535–548CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Carroll JJ, Viglierchio DR (1981) On the transport of nematodes by the wind. J Nematol 13:476–483PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Chown SL, Convey P (2007) Spatial and temporal variability across life's hierarchies in the terrestrial Antarctic. Phil Trans R Soc B 362:2307–2331PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Convey P (1996) The influence of environmental characteristics on life history attributes of Antarctic terrestrial biota. Biol Rev 71:191–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Convey P, McInnes SJ (2005) Exceptional tardigrade-dominated ecosystems in Ellsworth Land, Antarctica. Ecology 86:519–527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Convey P, Stevens MI (2007) Antarctic biodiversity. Science 317:1877–1878PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Courtright EM, Wall DH, Virginia RA (2001) Determining habitat suitability for soil invertebrates in an extreme environment: the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Antarct Sci 13:9–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dastych H, Harris JM (1995) A new species of the genus Macrobiotus from inland nunataks in western Dronning Maud Land, continental Antarctica (Tardigrada). Entomol Mitt Zool Mus Hamb 11:175–182Google Scholar
  10. Freckman DW, Virginia RA (1997) Low-diversity Antarctic soil nematode communities: distribution and response to disturbance. Ecology 78:363–369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hanski I (1999) Metapopulation ecology. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 313Google Scholar
  12. Hiller A, Hermichen WD, Wand U (1995) Radiocarbon-dated subfossil stomach oil deposits from petrel nesting sites: novel paleoenvironmental records from continental Antarctica. Radiocarbon 37:171–180Google Scholar
  13. Hogg ID, Cary SC, Convey P, Newsham KK, O’Donnell AG, Adams BJ, Aislabie J, Frati F, Stevens MI, Wall DH (2006) Biotic interactions in Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems: are they a factor? Soil Biol Biochem 38:3035–3040CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hohberg K, Traunspurger W (2005) Predator-prey interaction in soil food web: functional response, size-dependent foraging efficiency, and the influence of soil texture. Biol Fertil Soils 41:419–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kinchin IM (1994) The biology of tardigrades. Portland Press, London, pp 186Google Scholar
  16. Lewis MA (1997) Variability, patchiness, and jump dispersal in the spread of an invading population. In: Tilman D, Kareiva P (eds) Spatial ecology. Princeton University Press, Princeton, pp 46–74Google Scholar
  17. Nkem JN, Wall DH, Virginia RA, Barrett JE, Broos EJ, Porazinska DL, Adams BJ (2006) Wind dispersal of soil invertebrates in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Polar Biol 29:346–352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Pannewitz S, Green TGA, Scheidegger C, Schlensog M, Schroeter B (2003) Activity pattern of the moss Henndiella heimi (Hedw.) Zand. in the Dry Valleys, Southern Victoria Land, Antarctica during mid-austral summer. Polar Biol 26:545–551CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Petz W (1997) Ecology of the active soil microfauna (protozoa, metazoa) of Wilkes Land, East Antarctica. Polar Biol 18:33–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Petz W, Valbonesi A, Schiftner U, Quesada A, Ellis-Evans JC (2007) Ciliate biogeography in Antarctic and Arctic freshwater ecosystems: endemism or global distribution of species? FEMS Microb Ecol 59:396–408CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Porazinska DL, Wall DH, Virginia RA (2002a) Population age structure of nematodes in the Antarctic Dry Valleys: perspectives on time, space, and habitat suitability. Arct Antarct Alp Res 34:159–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Porazinska DL, Wall DH, Virginia RA (2002b) Invertebrates in ornithogenic soils on Ross Island, Antarctica. Polar Biol 25:569–574Google Scholar
  23. Rogers AD (2007) Evolution and biodiversity of Antarctic organisms: a molecular perspective. Phil Trans R Soc B 362:2191–2214PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ryan PG, Steele WK, Siegfried WR, Vogel JC (1992) Radiocarbon dates of snow petrel regurgitations can reveal exposure periods for nunataks in Antarctica. S Afr J Sci 88:578–580Google Scholar
  25. Ryss A, Boström S, Sohlenius B (2005) Tylenchid nematodes found on the nunatak Basen, East Antarctica. Ann Zool 55:315–324Google Scholar
  26. Sohlenius B (1979) A carbon budget for nematodes, rotifers and tardigrades in a Swedish coniferous forest soil. Holarct Ecol 2:30–40Google Scholar
  27. Sohlenius B (1989) Interactions between two species of Panagrolaimus in agar cultures. Nematologica 34(1988):208–217Google Scholar
  28. Sohlenius B, Boström S (2005) The geographic distribution of metazoan microfauna on East Antarctic nunataks. Polar Biol 28:439–448CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Sohlenius B, Boström S (2006) Patch-dynamics and population structure of nematodes and tardigrades on Antarctic nunataks. Eur J Soil Biol 42:S321–S325CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Sohlenius B, Boström S, Hirschfelder A (1995) Nematodes, rotifers and tardigrades from nunataks in Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica. Polar Biol 15:51–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sohlenius B, Boström S, Hirschfelder A (1996) Distribution patterns of microfauna (nematodes, rotifers and tardigrades) on nunataks in Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica. Polar Biol 16:191–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sohlenius B, Boström S, Jönsson KI (2004) Occurrence of nematodes, tardigrades and rotifers on ice-free areas in East Antarctica. Pedobiologia 48:395–408CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Virginia RA, Wall DH (1999) How soils structure communities in the Antarctic Dry Valleys. BioScience 49:973–983CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wall DH, Virginia R (1999) Controls on soil biodiversity: insights from extreme environments. Appl Soil Ecol 13:137–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Invertebrate ZoologySwedish Museum of Natural HistoryStockholmSweden

Personalised recommendations