The environmental physiology of Antarctic terrestrial nematodes: a review

Abstract

The environmental physiology of terrestrial Antarctic nematodes is reviewed with an emphasis on their cold-tolerance strategies. These nematodes are living in one of the most extreme environments on Earth and face a variety of stresses, including low temperatures and desiccation. Their diversity is low and declines with latitude. They show resistance adaptation, surviving freezing and desiccation in a dormant state but reproducing when conditions are favourable. At high freezing rates in the surrounding medium the Antarctic nematode Panagrolaimus davidi freezes by inoculative freezing but can survive intracellular freezing. At slow freezing rates this nematode does not freeze but undergoes cryoprotective dehydration. Cold tolerance may be aided by rapid freezing, the production of trehalose and by an ice-active protein that inhibits recrystallisation. P. davidi relies on slow rates of water loss from its habitat, and can survive in a state of anhydrobiosis, perhaps aided by the ability to synthesise trehalose. Teratocephalus tilbrooki and Ditylenchus parcevivens are fast-dehydration strategists. Little is known of the osmoregulatory mechanisms of Antarctic nematodes. Freezing rates are likely to vary with water content in Antarctic soils. Saturated soils may produce slow freezing rates and favour cryoprotective dehydration. As the soil dries freezing rates may become faster, favouring freezing tolerance. When the soil dries completely the nematodes survive anhydrobiotically. Terrestrial Antarctic nematodes thus have a variety of strategies that ensure their survival in a harsh and variable environment. We need to more fully understand the conditions to which they are exposed in Antarctic soils and to apply more natural rates of freezing and desiccation to our studies.

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Acknowledgements

I am grateful to Antarctica New Zealand who have supported my visits to Antarctica. Our current work on the ice active proteins of Antarctic nematodes is funded by the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

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Correspondence to D. A. Wharton.

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Communicated by: I.D. Hume

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Wharton, D.A. The environmental physiology of Antarctic terrestrial nematodes: a review. J Comp Physiol B 173, 621–628 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00360-003-0378-0

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Keywords

  • Anhydrobiosis
  • Cold tolerance
  • Cryoprotective dehydration
  • Desiccation
  • Freezing
  • Osmoregulation.