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Physiological variation in insects: large-scale patterns and their implications.

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Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, 0002, Pretoria, South Africa.


In this paper we demonstrate how broad scale comparative physiology has an important role to play in informing a variety of assumptions made in macroecology. We do so by examining large-scale geographic variation in insect development, thermal tolerance and metabolic rate. From these studies, and those from the literature on insect water loss and thermoregulation, we show that there is often a bias to the geographic extent of available empirical data. Studies of cold hardiness are most usually undertaken at high latitudes, while investigations of upper thermal tolerances and water loss are most common in warm arid regions. Likewise, we demonstrate that much variation in insect physiological tolerances is partitioned at higher taxonomic levels, which has important implications for comparative physiology. Intriguingly, data on the full range of variables we review are available for only three species. We also show that, despite its importance, body size is regularly reported in only some kinds of investigations (metabolic rate, water loss rate), whereas in others (upper lethal temperature, cold hardiness, development) this variable is often ignored. In short, although large-scale comparative physiology can contribute considerable understanding to both physiology and ecology, there is much that remains to be done.

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