There are places on our planet where life seems impossible. Antarctica is one of them. But this was not always the case: 68 million years ago, the continent was covered with dense forests, where dinosaurs and the first mammals walked. At that time, Antarctica was connected to South America, forming the last remnants of the supercontinent Gondwana, from which Africa and Australia had already separated. Only after the breakaway from South America-about 35 million years ago-the continent was enveloped in an ice sheet that destroyed almost all life. Of course, Antarctica is famous for penguins and seals, but they live on the coast, eating fish and phytoplankton. But they cannot survive in the interior of the continent, about 98% of which is covered with ice. No one was supposed to. Till recently.
Who lives in Antarctica?
Starting around 1900, scientists gradually discovered that ice-free areas of land a few kilometers from the coast were inhabited by tiny creatures called collemboles – a subclass of small arthropods-ticks, worms, and even midges. All these creatures needed water and often inhabited small patches of lichen or moss on the Northern slopes, where the summer sun melted snow 24 hours a day and moistened the soil. But over time, researchers found them in colder and drier places, moving inland until they discovered Tullbergia – a tiny animal that lives under rocks in the inner mountain peaks of Antarctica.
In fact, on the COLLEMBOLAN is rarely heard. And this is despite the fact that the soil in the yard where you live is probably just teeming with them. These tiny creatures are found all over the world, and several species live in rare areas of ice-free surface that are scattered throughout Antarctica. However, this is a very harsh place where there is little food, except for microscopic fungi and rare bacteria. How the Collembola and Tullbergia got there and how they were able to survive dozens of ice ages is a mystery that has yet to be answered. How do you think these tiny ancient animals managed to survive in such an aggressive and cold environment? Share your opinion with the participants of our Telegram chat, where you will find like-minded people.
A COLLEMBOLAN of mnogochastny look so
According to Scientific American, species like Tullbergia expand our understanding of the boundaries of biology, reinforcing the idea that even the most brutal conditions on Earth can often support complex animal life.
How to survive the Ice age?
The results of a study published in the journal Pedobiologia in 2005 showed that the age of origin of some Antarctic collembolls far exceeds past ice ages. To assess when several species of Antarctic collembolls separated from species from Australia, New Zealand, and Patagonia, scientists used DNA analysis. The results were unexpected – according to the data obtained, the separation occurred from 10 million to 20 million years ago. Read more about what DNA analysis is, how it is done and why it is needed in our material.
Not surprisingly, these results have left researchers at a loss: how did these tiny creatures survive so many ice ages? Some have suggested that the animals may have survived in various small isolated valleys, called the McMurdo Dry valleys, in the Northern part of the Transantarctic mountains, but no one knows the exact answer to this question today.
This is a highly magnified image of Tullbergia. White and bristly in life, it dries quickly and dies when exposed to air.
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Tullbergia and other animals are not found in other parts of Antarctica. Their further study showed that even in warm seasons, the movement of these animals was more limited. So, some populations lived just 10 kilometers from each other, but did not intersect for five million years! It turned out that this species did not travel at all. But how, then, did Tullbergia manage to survive at least 30 ice ages without moving more than a few kilometers and making contact with other populations? This question is all the more mysterious because most of the time these animals were trapped in a narrow zone between deadly ice and toxic salt.
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If you look at the mountains, the icy continent from the helicopter, you can see a faint line running across the slopes in a couple of hundred meters above the ice surface the rock changes color from light below to dark line above it. These lines show how high the ice rose during the last ice age-the result of subtle differences in the way minerals oxidize when exposed to air. The soil of any transantarctic mountain and under it is often covered with a white crust of salt.
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