Aim To describe the distribution of biodiversity and endemism of bryozoans in southern temperate and polar waters. We hypothesized that we would find: (1) no strong latitudinal richness gradient; (2) striking contrasts in richness and endemism between clades and between regions; and (3) that faunal similarity of regions would cluster geographically around each southern continent. Location South Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans and the Southern Ocean. Methods We constructed a data base from known literature, regional data bases and recent finds. We regionalized each southern continent, calculated levels of richness and endemism for each region and continent, and used primer 5 to perform multivariate statistical analysis. Results A third (1681) of global bryozoan species described occur south of 30° S, of which c. 87% were cheilostomes. In richness we found no latitudinal cline and change across longitude was stronger. New Zealand was richest and had the most (60%) endemic species, followed by Antarctica at 57%. There were striking contrasts in regional richness and endemism between clades but the highest levels of between-region similarity were around Antarctica. The timing of past continent connectivity was reflected. Main conclusions Bryozoans show strong hemispherical asymmetry in richness and, like molluscs and corals, decrease away from Australasia rather than with latitude. Species endemism is much lower in Antarctic bryozoans than previously thought, and as this taxon is not particularly dispersive and is now amongst the best studied regionally, maybe Antarctic endemism in general is lower and Antarctica less cut-off to species dispersal than previously thought. However, Antarctic generic endemism is double the level previously calculated and regional faunal similarities are much higher than around other continents – both reflecting long-term isolation. Bryozoans, in contrast to the paradigm of Antarctic fauna, may be fairly robust to predicted climate change. Paradoxically, they may also be one of the best taxa to monitor to sensitively detect marine benthic responses.