Life at the Limits: Organisms in Extreme Environments

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Frogs that freeze solid, worms that dry out, and bacteria that survive temperatures over 100°C are all organisms that have an extreme biology, which involves many aspects of their physiology, ecology, and evolution. These organisms live in seemingly impossible places and exhibit fascinating behavior. In this captivating account, the reader is taken on a tour of extreme environments, and shown the remarkable abilities of organisms to survive a range of extreme conditions, such as high and low temperatures and desiccation. Examples include:

  • Hydrothermal vents
  • Hot and cold deserts
  • Polar regions
  • hot springs
  • alpine and winter temperate environments
  • ocean depths, salt lakes, soda lakes, and estuarine muds, among other environments. Life at the Limits considers how organisms survive major stresses, and what extreme organisms can tell us about the origin of life and the possibilities of extraterrestrial life. David Wharton is a Senior Lecturer in Zoology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. He has focused his research on the survival abilities of nematodes, resulting in the publication of over 75 research papers and one book, The Functional Biology of Nematodes (Croom Helm, 1986). His contribution to research was recognized by the award of the degree Doctor of Science by the University of Bristol in 1997. Recently, Wharton has become interested in the popularization of science through his involvement in the establishment of a Postgraduate Diploma in Natural History, Filmmaking and Communication, a collaboration between the University of Otago and Natural History New Zealand, a producer of natural history films based in Dunedin.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Engaging" Oceanography

"I know that my students and I will enjoy consulting this book in the years to come for its coverage, enjoyable style and background material." Nature

"Aimed at the scientifically knowledgeable, as well as those with a basic knowledge of biology, the volume is packed with information for all levels of general audiences and for high school and college students. With an extensive bibliography and glossary of terms, the book can be used effectively as a teaching aid. The fascinating account of the seemingly impossible places where life is possible and the speculations on the origin of life and extraterrestrial life make this book compelling reading." Science Books and Films

"Interesting discussion on what these organisms can tell us about the origins of life and the possibilities of finding life on other planets." Northeastern Naturalist

"A fascinating biological study." Paper Clips

From The Critics
Californians thought they had it tough when the air conditioning went off, but Wharton (zoology, U. of Otago, New Zealand) tells stories of animals, plants, and microbes that flourish under conditions that were long thought unable to support life. Most such books are by biochemists or microbiologists, and he claims to know about some creatures they do not. He writes for non-specialists, hopefully even those with no background in biology or science, though pronunciation guides in the glossary would have helped. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521039901
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 8/18/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author

David Wharton is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Zoology at the University of Otago, New Zealand, where his research has centred upon the extraodinary survival abilities of animals.

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Table of Contents

Preface; 1. Introduction: extreme life; 2. Be it ever so humble …; 3. Life without water; 4. The hot club; 5. Cold Lazarus; 6. More tough choices; 7. 'It's life, Jim, but not as we know it!'; 8. An extreme biology; Bibliography; Glossary; Index.

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