Journal of Undergraduate Research


tardigrades, glacial maximum, Antarctica, glaciologists


Life Sciences




The current belief of the majority of glaciologists is that during the last glacial maximum (LGM), 17,000-22000 years ago, the entire Antarctic continent was completely covered in ice (Convey, 2008). This would mean that all terrestrial organisms would have died out during this time, essentially leaving Antarctica without life. If this hypothesis is true then all terrestrial organisms found currently in Antarctica arrived after the LGM (the past 12-18,000 years), a very short time frame for speciation to occur. Tardigrades are microscopic terrestrial animals that are most closely related to Arthropods and Nematodes (Edgecombe, 2011 but see also Longhorn, 2007). They are able to survive the cold, dry conditions present in Antarctica along with only a handful of other organisms. Tardigrades are extremophiles, capable of surviving extreme temperatures, pressures, levels of radiation, dryness, and chemical toxins. Because of this extraordinary survivability, tardigrades are ideal candidates for having survived the harsh conditions present during the LGM. My hypothesis is that tardigrades did in fact survive the LGM and were present on the Antarctic continent long before this time. This is an important hypothesis because if it is true, then it would mean not only that the majority of Antarctic Glaciologists are wrong about the extent of the Antarctic ice sheets during the LGM, but also that small isolated pockets of suitable soil habitat remained where the organisms were able to survive. With sufficient proof that these areas of exposed soil existed, current ideas about the glacial history of Antarctica would have to be rewritten.

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