Location, location, location: survival of Antarctic biota requires the best real estate

Mark I. Stevens, Andrew N. MacKintosh

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The origin of terrestrial biota in Antarctica has been debated since the discovery of springtails on the first historic voyages to the southern continent more than 120 years ago. A plausible explanation for the long-term persistence of life requiring ice-free land on continental Antarctica has, however, remained elusive. The default glacial eradication scenario has dominated because hypotheses to date have failed to provide a mechanism for their widespread survival on the continent, particularly through the Last Glacial Maximum when geological evidence demonstrates that the ice sheet was more extensive than present. Here, we provide support for the alternative nunatak refuge hypothesis - that ice-free terrain with sufficient relief above the ice sheet provided refuges and was a source for terrestrial biota found today. This hypothesis is supported here by an increased understanding from the combination of biological and geological evidence, and we outline a mechanism for these refuges during successive glacial maxima that also provides a source for coastal species. Our cross-disciplinary approach provides future directions to further test this hypothesis that will lead to new insights into the evolution of Antarctic landscapes and how they have shaped the biota through a changing climate.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20220590
Number of pages7
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


  • cosmogenic dating
  • glacial refuge
  • ice sheet
  • ice-free
  • nunatak
  • springtails

Cite this