The role of glacier mice in the invertebrate colonisation of glacial surfaces: the moss balls of the Falljökull, Iceland

Abstract

Glacier surfaces have a surprisingly complex ecology. Cryoconite holes contain diverse invertebrate communities, while other invertebrates, such as Collembola, often graze on algae and windblown dead organic material on the glacier surface. Glacier mice (ovoid unattached moss balls) occur on some glaciers worldwide. Studies of these glacier mice have concentrated on their occurrence and mode of formation. There are no reports of the invertebrate communities. But, such glacier mice may provide a suitable favourable habitat and refuge for a variety of invertebrate groups to colonise the glacier surface. Here, we describe the invertebrate fauna of the glacier mice (moss balls) of the Falljökull, Iceland. The glacier mice were composed of Racomitrium sp. and varied in size from 8.0 to 10.0 cm in length. All glacier mice studied contained invertebrates. Two species of Collembola were present. Pseudisotoma sensibilis (Tullberg, 1876) was numerically dominant with between 12 and 73 individuals per glacier mouse, while Desoria olivacea (Tullberg, 1871) occurred but in far lower numbers. Tardigrada and Nematoda had mean densities of approximately 200 and 1,000, respectively. No Acari, Arachnida or Enchytraeidae were observed, which may be related to the difficulty these groups have in colonising the glacier mice. We suggest that glacier mice provide an unusual environmentally ameliorated microhabitat for an invertebrate community dwelling on a glacial surface. The glacier mice thereby enable an invertebrate fauna to colonise an otherwise largely inhospitable location with implications for carbon flow in the system.

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Acknowledgments

Fanny Dommanget for invaluable help in the laboratory and Arne Fjellberg Entomological Research for identification of the Collembola. Michael Stech and Hans Kruijer from the National Herbarium of the Netherlands, University of Leiden, for identifying the moss and checking synonyms. Guðrún Þórunn Gísladóttir assisted with the provision of Icelandic Meteorological Office data sets. NGM received funding from Nottingham Trent University to undertake fieldwork in Iceland and was assisted by Oz Godden, Karen Mather and Nikki Sandercock. Mike Pemulis is thanked for advice on the use of the dot product operation. We are also grateful to three anonymous reviewers and the Editor for their constructive comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to S. J. Coulson.

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Coulson, S.J., Midgley, N.G. The role of glacier mice in the invertebrate colonisation of glacial surfaces: the moss balls of the Falljökull, Iceland. Polar Biol 35, 1651–1658 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-012-1205-4

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Keywords

  • Arctic
  • Colonisation
  • Dispersal