Extreme-Tolerance Mechanisms in Meiofaunal Organisms: A Case Study With Tardigrades, Rotifers and Nematodes

Document Type


Publication Date



To persist in extreme environments, some meiofaunal taxa have adopted outstanding resistance strategies. Recent years have seen increased enthusiasm for understanding extreme-resistance mechanisms evolved by tardigrades, nematodes and rotifers, such as the capability to tolerate complete desiccation and freezing by entering a state of reversible suspension of metabolism called anhydrobiosis and cryobiosis, respectively. In contrast, the less common phenomenon of diapause, which includes encystment and cyclomorphosis, is defined by a suspension of growth and development with a reduction in metabolic activity induced by stressful environmental conditions. Because of their unique resistance, tardigrades and rotifers have been proposed as model organisms in the fields of exobiology and space research. They are also increasingly considered in medical research with the hope that their resistance mechanisms could be used to improve the tolerance of human cells to extreme stress. This review will analyse the dormancy strategies in tardigrades, rotifers and nematodes with emphasis on mechanisms of extreme stress tolerance to identify convergent and unique strategies occurring in these distinct groups. We also examine the ecological and evolutionary consequences of extreme tolerance by summarizing recent advances in this field.