Collembolan water relations and environmental change in the maritime Antarctic

The water status of the collembolan Cryptopygtus antarcticus (Willem) was investigated from April 1984 to December 1987 at Signy Island, maritime Antarctic, by monthly field sampling to determine body water content. Water content, expressed either as the weight of water per unit dry weight or as a proportion of fresh weight, exhibited both a seasonal cycle and an upward trend over the 44-month study, both of which were highly significant. On an annual basis, body water content was at a minimum (1.21 g g−1) in July and maximal (1.98 g g−1) in September, whilst over the entire study water contents increased from 1.3 to 2.0 g g−1 (or 57-66% of fresh weight) calculated from the fitted linear regression line. Field water contents were below those found for this species in culture (2.9-5.9 g g−1). Individual C. antarcticus survived experimental loss of 20% of their body water with a resultant significant rise in haemolymph osmolarity from 285 to 397 mOsm L−1 and there was no evidence of osmoregulation under the experimental conditions of 20 °C and 35% relative humidity. The cuticular permeability (mean conductance) of individual Collembola in dry air increased exponentially with temperature over the range D-45 °C (Q10= 2.0) showing no control of water loss. The physiological response of C. antarcticus suggests that it experiences water stress in its maritime Antarctic habitats with significant seasonal variations of body water content, which correlate with annual cycles of water availability. It is concluded that the significant rise in its mean body water content over the 44-month field study was associated with increased glacial ablation due to higher levels of irradiation and windspeed making available more liquid water. Analyses of climate records for Signy Island from 1947 to 1990 showed that mean monthly air temperature rose by 0.93 °C over this period and by 2.29 °C during the 1980s, both statistically significant increases. Mean monthly windspeeds also increased significantly during 1970–90, and it is suggested that this parameter is the primary climatic driving force behind the increase in glacial ablation during the last two decades. The field water status of species such as C. antarcticus may reflect changes in the patterns of atmospheric circulation, associated with the circumpolar vortex, through increased ozone depletion due to increased tropospheric concentrations of halocarbons.


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Authors: Block, William, Harrisson, Paul M.

On this site: William Block
1 October, 1995
Global Change Biology / 1
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