Surviving in a frozen desert: Environmental stress physiology of terrestrial Antarctic arthropods

Nicholas M. Teets, David L. Denlinger

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Abiotic stress is one of the primary constraints limiting the range and success of arthropods, and nowhere is this more apparent than Antarctica. Antarctic arthropods have evolved a suite of adaptations to cope with extremes in temperature and water availability. Here, we review the current state of knowledge regarding the environmental physiology of terrestrial arthropods in Antarctica. To survive low temperatures, mites and Collembola are freeze-intolerant and rely on deep supercooling, in some cases supercooling below -30°C. Also, some of these microarthropods are capable of cryoprotective dehydration to extend their supercooling capacity and reduce the risk of freezing. In contrast, the two best-studied Antarctic insects, the midges Belgica antarctica and Eretmoptera murphyi, are freezetolerant year-round and rely on both seasonal and rapid coldhardening to cope with decreases in temperature. A common theme among Antarctic arthropods is extreme tolerance of dehydration; some accomplish this by cuticular mechanisms to minimize water loss across their cuticle, while a majority have highly permeable cuticles but tolerate upwards of 50-70% loss of body water. Molecular studies of Antarctic arthropod stress physiology are still in their infancy, but several recent studies are beginning to shed light on the underlying mechanisms that govern extreme stress tolerance. Some common themes that are emerging include the importance of cuticular and cytoskeletal rearrangements, heat shock proteins, metabolic restructuring and cell recycling pathways as key mediators of cold and water stress in the Antarctic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-93
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014


  • Antarctica
  • Cold tolerance
  • Dehydration
  • Environmental stress
  • Physiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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