Aim: The long history of isolation of the Antarctic continent, coupled with the harsh ecological conditions of freezing temperatures, could affect the patterns of genetic diversity in the organisms living there. We aim (a) to test whether such pattern can be seen in a mitochondrial marker of bdelloid rotifers, a group of microscopic aquatic and limno-terrestrial animals and (b) to speculate on the potential mechanisms driving the pattern. Location: Focus on Antarctica. Taxon: Rotifera Bdelloidea. Methods: We analysed different metrics of genetic diversity, also spatially explicit ones, including number of haplotypes, accumulation curves, genetic distances, time to the most recent common ancestor, number of independently evolving units from DNA taxonomy, strength of the correlation between geographical and genetic distances, population genetics neutrality and differentiation indices, potential historical processes, obtained from an extensive sample of cytochrome oxidase subunit I (COI) sequences obtained from bdelloid rotifers. We included 2242 individuals from 23 species in a comparison between Antarctic and non-Antarctic taxa, correcting for sample size directly in the analyses and then by confirming the results also using only a restricted dataset of nine well-sampled species. Results: Antarctic species had consistently lower genetic diversity and potential younger relative age than non-Antarctic species, even if they were similar in sample size, geographical extent, neutrality and differentiation indices, and correlation between genetic and geographical distances. Main conclusions: The extensive survey of genetic diversity in one mitochondrial marker in Antarctic bdelloids supports previous suggestions from other organisms
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