Sep 15, 2022
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Insects trying to adapt to high temperatures

Insects trying to adapt to high temperatures

As increasingly frequent and intense heatwaves expose a wide range of animals to temperatures outside their normal limits, an international team of scientists led by the University of Bristol has studied more than 100 species of insects to find out how these climate changes will affect them. The analysis showed that insects have a weak ability to regulate their thermal capacity to withstand high temperatures and are therefore more susceptible to global warming than previously thought.

One way insects cope with extreme temperatures is through a process called acclimatization, where previous heat exposure pushes their critical thermal limits. Acclimatization usually causes a number of physiological changes, such as an increase in the level of heat shock proteins, and leads to a change in the composition of phospholipids in cell membranes.

However, the scientists found that most insects have considerable difficulty in doing this effectively: for every 1°C shift in exposure, their limits were only adjusted by 0.092°C and 0.147°C, respectively (compensation of 10 and 15 percent). However, juvenile insects were better adapted to acclimatization, which suggests that there may be critical periods in development when the experience of heat waves can increase resistance to them in the future.

Scientists are currently studying how exposure to extreme temperatures affects insect reproduction. Elucidation of this aspect may be more important in predicting future distribution than indicators of productivity or survival.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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