Effect of summer frost exposures on the cold tolerance strategy of a sub-Antarctic beetle

The sub-AntarcticbeetleHydromedion sparsutum (Coleoptera, Perimylopidae) is common locally on the island of South Georgia where sub-zero temperatures can be experienced in any month of the year. Larvae were known to be weakly freeze tolerant in summer with a mean supercooling point (SCP) around −4°C and a lower lethal temperature of −10°C (15 min exposure). This study investigated the effects of successive freezing exposures on the SCP and subsequent survival of summer acclimatised larvae. The mean SCP of field fresh larvae was −4.2±0.2°C with a range from −1.0 to −6.1°C. When larvae were cooled to −6.5°C on 10 occasions at intervals of 30 min and one and four days, survival was 44, 70 and 68%, respectively. The ‘end of experiment’ SCP of larvae surviving 10 exposures at −6.5°C showed distinct changes and patterns from the original field population depending on the interval between exposure. In the 30 min interval group, most larvae froze between −6 and −8°C, a depression of up to 6°C from the original sample; all larvae were dead when cooling was continued below the SCP to −12°C. In the one and four day interval groups, most larvae froze above −6°C, showing no change as a result of the 10 exposures at −6.5°C. As with the 30 min interval group, some larvae froze below −6°C, but with a wider range, and again, all were dead when cooled to −12°C. However, in the one and four day interval groups, some larvae remained unfrozen when cooled to −12°C, a depression of their individual SCP of at least 6°C, and were alive 24 h after cooling. In a further experiment, larvae were cooled to their individual SCP temperature at daily intervals on 10 occasions to ensure that every larva froze every day. Most larvae which showed a depression of their SCP of 2–4°C from their day one value became moribund or died after six or seven freezing events. Survival was highest in larvae with SCPs of −2 to −3°C on day one and which froze at this level on all 10 occasions. The results indicate that in larvae in which the SCP is lowered following sub-zero exposure, the depression of the SCP is greatest in individuals that do not actually freeze. Further, the data suggest that after successive frostexposures in early winter the larval population may become segregated into two sub-populations with different overwintering strategies. One group consists of larvae that freeze consistently in the temperature range from −1 to −3°C and can survive multiple freeze–thaw cycles. A second group with lower initial SCPs (around −6°C), or which fall to this level or lower (down to −12°C) after freezing on one or more occasions, are less likely to freeze through extended supercooling, but more likely to die if freezing occurs.


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Authors: Bale, J.S., Worland, M.R., Block, W.

On this site: Roger Worland, William Block
1 January, 2001
Journal of Insect Physiology / 47
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