Mission

Project Leader: Dr Ian Hogg

The Invertebrate project focuses on the genetic diversity of invertebrate life in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, particularly nematodes, mites and springtails. Since the realization that the Dry Valleys are not the lifeless environments originally suggested by Captain Scott, this project has endeavoured to determine the extent of invertebrate species within this area.


Collecting samples in the field

Over the last 15 years, various students and researchers have visited the Dry Valleys in an attempt to map the location and diversity of Antarctic invertebrates. In more recent years, the project has focused on the springtails, or Collembola, a type of soil arthropod common throughout the world. These small invertebrates are found in the few sheltered places under rocks, or in the infrequent patches of moss and lichens in this harsh environment. These are the largest animals able to survive year round in the Dry Valleys, and larger mammals like penguins and seals quickly die and become mummified by the cold, dry conditions. It is believed that diversity of the springtails may help to identify areas of refugia, where organisms have been able to live through periods of extreme glaciation and re-colonise an area afterwards. These locations would be very important from an ecological perspective, and may need protection once identified.
Previously, a location known as Mt Seuss has been targeted due to the apparent presence of three springtail species on this isolated mountain top. This is three times as diverse as the area around it, as only one species is known from this region of Victoria Land. However, one of the species, Antarcticinella monoculata, has not been found for the last several seasons, and it is possible that it has become extinct.

Antarcticinella monoculata: The springtail being searched for on Mt Seuss. It might be extinct. Gomphiocephalus hodgsoni: The common springtail of the Dry Valleys, found throughout South Victoria Land

 

Neocryptopygus nivicolus: The other springtail species present on Mt Seuss. This one has been found more recently, and worked on genetically.

 

The 2012-13 summer season team seeks to determine the presence of this species, and also run genetic analysis to determine its relationship to the other two species in the area. Researchers will be helicoptered to the site, to search in likely places in the hopes of finding the springtails. Specimens will be collected using aspirators, or by collecting and searching through soil samples. Springtails that are found will be stored in ethanol for transport back to the University of Waikato, where the genetic analysis will be undertaken.

 

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