Area, depth and elevation of cryoconite holes in the Arctic do not influence Tardigrada densities

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Water bears (Tardigrada) are known as one of the most extremophile animals in the world. They inhabit environments from the deepest parts of the oceans up to the highest mountains. One of the most extreme and still poorly studied habitats which tardigrades inhabit are cryoconite holes. We analysed the relation between area, depth, elevation and tardigrades densities in cryoconite holes on four glaciers on Spitsbergen. The mean (±SD) of cryoconite area was 1287.21±2400.8 cm2, while the depth was on average 10.8±11.2 cm, the elevation 172.6±109.66 m a.s.l., and tardigrade density 24.9±33.0 individuals per gram of wet material (n = 38). The densities of tardigrades on Hans Glacier reached values of up to 168 ind. cm3, 104 ind. g−1 wet weight, and 275 ind. g−1 dry weight. The densities of tardigrades of the three glaciers in Billefjorden were up to 82 ind. cm2, 326 ind. g−1 wet weight and 624 ind. g−1 dry weight. Surprisingly, although the model included area, depth and elevation as independent variables, it cannot explain Tardigrada density in cryoconite holes. We propose that due to the rapid melting of the glacier surface in the Arctic, the constant flushing of cryoconite sediments, and inter-hole water-sediment mixing, the functioning of these ecosystems is disrupted. We conclude that cryoconite holes are dynamic ecosystems for microinvertebrates in the Arctic.

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