Tardigrade or the Arctic’s water bears

  • Principal Investigator: Krzysztof Zawierucha, MSc
  • Project title: Diversity and ecology of tardigrades (Tardigrada) of the Svalbard Archipelago with regard to the climate and theory of islands biogeography
  • Funding scheme: ETIUDA 3, announced 15th December 2014
Krzysztof Zawierucha podczas badań na archipelagu Svalbard

The Arctic is one of the places on our planet we very often get to hear of in reports on climate change, which indeed has an impact on this frozen region of the Earth, causing ice to melt and retreat. This influence into changes of the Arctic’s vulnerable ecosystems. Climate change influence on: animals to nest earlier in their places of reproduction, changes in the composition of food base and the fast organism succesion in new ice free locations, which – in turn – triggers changes in the distribution patterns of many species. The model organism in my study are tardigrades, animals whose average size is 0.3 mm; in English science they are referred to as water bears (seen under a microscope they resemble miniature bears). These organisms are well-known for their resistance to extreme conditions. They are constant part of the Artic’s animal microcosm. They inhabit mosses, lichens, soil and even the surface of glaciers.

My study site is the Svalbard Archipelago, located in the European part of the Arctic, consisting of several dozen islands. The climate of the archipelago is shaped by sea currents: warm and cold. In this area different types of glaciers abound, and on mountain slopes  plankton-eating birds nest. In my research I described the positive effect of guano from the Arctic birds’ colonies on the densities and size of tardigrades in tundra ecosystems. I have also showed that on glaciers unique species may occur, which do not occur in tundra. Apart from that, I have described the function of these microscopic animals in glacial ecosystems.


The next stage of the research is the study of tardigrades’ distribution patterns across the islands of Svalbard, with regard to the size of the island and the influence of sea currents. This will allow us to approach the question whether the characteristic of an island and climate change affect not only large polar bears but also microscopic water bears.

For a biologist, the Arctic is a special place where the human impact on the environment is relatively low, where young ecosystems are present, with large seabird colonies which fertilise the poor in nutrients land habitats. Our knowledge on the microfauna and changes of extreme ecosystems (such as glaciers) is still scant. The project is all the more important given the increasing pace of climate change. Carrying out research of animals inhabiting extreme environments is a serious contribution to the field of biodiversity, ecology or biogeography. It may serve as a point of departure for further research in conservation, which will enable us to learn the relations between area and the number of species inhabiting them, or give us insights into astrobiology.

Krzysztof Zawierucha podczas badań na archipelagu Svalbard

Krzysztof Zawierucha, MSc

Doctoral candidate at the Department of Animal Taxonomy and Ecology (Faculty of Biology), Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan. The subject of his interest are tardigrades (Tardigrada), microscopic invertebrates. His dissertation deals with the ecology and diversity of the tardigrades inhabiting Svalbard. His other research occupation is the biodiversity of invertebrates and factors affecting their assemblages on  glaciers. A laureate of awards, grants and scholarships, including the Diamond Grant of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education and the PRELUDIUM grant of the National Science Centre. Author and co-author of 30 JCR publications.








Date of publication: 15th Dec, 2016