Gastrotricha in Svalbard - The diversity and the phylogenetic relationships in the foreland of the Arctic glaciers (GastrotrichS)

Arctic gastrotrichs have so far remained virtually unknown. Further research on the area will still bring many taxa new to science and help broaden our knowledge on diversity and speciation within the entire group Chaetonotidae as well as provide information on the ecological tolerance, adaptive and dispersive capacity of these invertebrates.

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Project type

  • field work


  • terrestrial biology
  • other

Project Keywords

  • terrestrial hydrosphere / surface water / lakes
  • terrestrial hydrosphere / surface water / wetlands
  • biological classification / animals/invertebrates
  • biosphere / aquatic habitat
  • biosphere / zoology

Fieldwork information

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Gastrotrichs is a group of microscopic acoelomate metazoan animals, with a total body length of 50 to 3500 ?m. The phylum is divided into the two orders: Chaetonotida Remane, 1925 [Rao & Clausen, 1970] and Macrodasyida Remane, 1925 [Rao & Clausen, 1970]. The gastrotrichs can be found in virtually all aquatic environments, including semi–aquatic ecosystems (peatbogs, alder woods, riparian forests, etc.) in both natural and artificial habitats. The estimated number of marine gastrotrich species suggests that only ca. 20% of alpha diversity is currently known for these animals. Similar estimates are also available for the number of freshwater taxa in Europe and it suggests that most freshwater gastrotrichs species are so far undescribed. This is due to the low number of specialists working on this phylum and the fact that new taxa are described on a regular basis. In contrast to other groups of small invertebrates, such as Tardigrada, which are relatively well–researched in the Arctic, the diversity of gastrotrich species in the area of Spitsbergen as well as all the rest of Svalbard is still unknown. The taxonomy of Gastrotricha still relies primarily on morphological characters; however, molecular data suggest that such an approach may be a misleading indicator of phylogenetic relationships. Comprehensive phylogenetic analyses based on morphological characters also indicate that relying on generally accepted features such as the presence and shape of scales and spines can be misleading and not necessarily directly correlated with phylogenetic relationships. Further sampling for molecular studies connected with detailed morphological and morphometrical analyses would be of great importance in solving the troubled taxonomy of Chaetonotidae, where most current genera are indeed polyphyletic. Further research could result in significant changes to the systematics of this group. The main question on this research will be influence of glaciation and climate change on Gastrotricha species diversity, speciation and phylogeny, mainly in the family Chaetonotidae, in the Hornsund fjord area (Svalbard Archipelago). During my project I would like realize following purpose: 1. Get to know the species diversity of freshwater Gastrotricha from Hornsund fjord region. 2. Analyse the species distribution and the factors influencing to it (temperature, pH, electrolytic conductivity, structure grain size of sediments, the co-existence of other meiofauna species/groups, the impact of runoff from the little auk colony) and to verify the distance from the glacier and the reservoir exposure time affects the gastrotrichs species composition and abundance. 3. Examine the phylogenetic relationships between the observed species, explore the process of speciation and incomplete speciation and demonstrate the relationship between morphological features and species membership and also the relationship between species. 4. Show potential pathways and dispersion conditions short-haul and long-haul small freshwater invertebrates on the Gastrotricha example. The material to gastrotrichs analyses will be collected in Hornsund (Spitsbergen, Svalbard Archipelago) in the impact zone and different distances from three independent glaciers, namely: Hansbreen, Hyrnebreen and Gasbreen. The top layer of bottom sediment together with ambient water from different water reservoirs will be collected by hand from shallow water zones into 200 cm3 plastic containers. Approximately 20–30 cm3 of the sediment and 80–90 cm3 of ambient water will be placed into each container. The collected samples will be subsequently placed in an isothermal box and transported to the laboratory in Polish Polar Station in Hornsund within 12 hours. All specimens of Gastrotricha will be extracted from the sediments with a micropipette under an Olympus SZ51 stereoscopic microscope and subsequently observing, photographed and documented alive under an microscope Olympus BX53.

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