Tardigrada are a phylum of microscopic animals (typically 50–2,100 µm in size) inhabiting a great majority of ecosystems throughout the world. About 1,170 species have been described worldwide. Tardigrades are recognized as possessing great environmental stress tolerance and are able to survive in extreme conditions on Earth and, through experimental exposure in low Earth orbit, to the space environment. In addition to their typical microhabitats (e.g., mosses, lichens or soil), they are also able to dwell in cryoconite holes (small meltwater hollow) on glaciers. It has also recently been shown that tardigrades inhabit detached moss balls (“glacier mice”) that roll free on ice surfaces in the Arctic. Despite the fact that studies of the tardigrades of the Svalbard islands were conducted by a number of researchers over a long period, only the Tardigrade fauna of the largest island of the archipelago, Spitsbergen, is relatively well surveyed. In contrast, our knowledge of water bears of other islands of the Svalbard archipelago is still very poor (adapted from Zawierucha et al 2013, click here for paper).

Click here for BBC article on "Tardigrades in Space", and interview with Prof. Pete Convey (British Antarctic Survey).

 Example Tardigrade, Isohypsibius coulsoni from Svalbard