Study: Climate Change Could Threaten Tardigrades

Researchers find that a combination of high temperatures and UV radiation can have negative effects on these hardy creatures.

Dec 20, 2017
Diana Kwon

ISTOCK, ERAXIONTardigrades—microscopic animals that can survive extreme temperatures, years of dehydration, and even a trip to outer space—might not be able to withstand the combined effects of climate change, according to a study published last week (December 14) in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Scientists at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy examined how Acutuncus antarcticus, a tardigrade species native to the Antarctic, would react to climate change–associated stressors such as dehydration, high temperatures, and increased levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. While the organisms were able to cope with individual events, a combination of high temperatures and high radiation lowered their chances of survival. 

In addition, the researchers report that tardigrades born from UV-irradiated eggs took longer to reach sexual maturity and produced fewer eggs during their lifetime than those hatched from nonirradiated eggs.

It is not certain that UV radiation at the poles will get worse than it is today, Mark Blaxter, a biologist at the University of Edinburgh who did not take part in the work, tells New Scientist. “Whether this tardigrade is more at risk than, say, apex predators such as penguin, or ecosystem keystones such as krill, is not clear,” he adds.