The biodiversity, ecosystem services and climate variability of the Antarctic continent and the Southern Ocean are major components of the whole Earth system. Antarctic ecosystems are driven more strongly by the physical environment than many other marine and terrestrial ecosystems. As a consequence, to understand ecological functioning, cross-disciplinary studies are especially important in Antarctic research. The conceptual study presented here is based on a workshop initiated by the Research Programme Antarctic Thresholds – Ecosystem Resilience and Adaptation of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, which focussed on challenges in identifying and applying cross-disciplinary approaches in the Antarctic. Novel ideas and first steps in their implementation were clustered into eight themes. These ranged from scale problems, through risk maps, and organism/ecosystem responses to multiple environmental changes and evolutionary processes. Scaling models and data across different spatial and temporal scales were identified as an overarching challenge. Approaches to bridge gaps in Antarctic research programmes included multi-disciplinary monitoring, linking biomolecular findings and simulated physical environments, as well as integrative ecological modelling. The results of advanced cross-disciplinary approaches can contribute significantly to our knowledge of Antarctic and global ecosystem functioning, the consequences of climate change, and to global assessments that ultimately benefit humankind.