Characteristics of meiofauna in extreme marine ecosystems: a review

Extreme marine environments cover more than 50% of the Earth’s surface and offer many opportunities for investigating the biological responses and adaptations of organisms to stressful life conditions. Extreme marine environments are sometimes associated with ephemeral and unstable ecosystems, but can host abundant, often endemic and well-adapted meiofaunal species. In this review, we present an integrated view of the biodiversity, ecology and physiological responses of marine meiofauna inhabiting several extreme marine environments (mangroves, submarine caves, Polar ecosystems, hypersaline areas, hypoxic/anoxic environments, hydrothermal vents, cold seeps, carcasses/sunken woods, deep-sea canyons, deep hypersaline anoxic basins [DHABs] and hadal zones). Foraminiferans, nematodes and copepods are abundant in almost all of these habitats and are dominant in deep-sea ecosystems. The presence and dominance of some other taxa that are normally less common may be typical of certain extreme conditions. Kinorhynchs are particularly well adapted to cold seeps and other environments that experience drastic changes in salinity, rotifers are well represented in polar ecosystems and loriciferans seem to be the only metazoan able to survive multiple stressors in DHABs. As well as natural processes, human activities may generate stressful conditions, including deoxygenation, acidification and rises in temperature. The behaviour and physiology of different meiofaunal taxa, such as some foraminiferans, nematode and copepod species, can provide vital information on how organisms may respond to these challenges and can provide a warning signal of anthropogenic impacts. From an evolutionary perspective, the discovery of new meiofauna taxa from extreme environments very often sheds light on phylogenetic relationships, while understanding how meiofaunal organisms are able to survive or even flourish in these conditions can explain evolutionary pathways. Finally, there are multiple potential economic benefits to be gained from ecological, biological, physiological and evolutionary studies of meiofauna in extreme environments. Despite all the advantages offered by meiofauna studies from extreme environments, there is still an urgent need to foster meiofauna research in terms of composition, ecology, biology and physiology focusing on extreme environments.


Extreme environments, Meiofauna, Mangroves, Submarine caves, Polar ecosystems, Melting ice, Hypersaline areas, Anoxic and hypoxic zones, Hydrothermal vents, Cold seeps, Carcasses and sunken woods, Deep sea, Submarine canyons, Deep hypersaline anoxic basins (DHABs), Hadal zones

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Zeppilli Daniela, Leduc Daniel, Fontanier Christophe, Fontaneto Diego, Fuchs Sandra, Gooday Andrew J., Goineau Aurelie, Ingels Jeroen, Ivanenko Viatcheslav N., Kristensen Reinhardt Mobjerg, Neves Ricardo Cardoso, Sanchez Nuria, Sandulli Roberto, Sarrazin Jozee, Sorensen Martin V., Tasiemski Aurelie, Vanreusel Ann, Autret Marine, Bourdonnay Louis, Claireaux Marion, Coquille Valerie, de Wever Lisa, Rachel Durand, Marchant James, Toomey Lola, Fernandes David (2018). Characteristics of meiofauna in extreme marine ecosystems: a review. Marine Biodiversity. 48 (1). 35-71.,

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