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J Insect Physiol. 2005 Jan;51(1):87-97.

Inertia in physiological traits: Embryonopsis halticella caterpillars (Yponomeutidae) across the Antarctic Polar Frontal Zone.

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Spatial, Physiological and Conservation Ecology Group, Department of Botany & Zoology, University of Stellenbosch, Private Bag X1, Matieland 7602, South Africa.


Geographic variation is characteristic of many physiological traits at the population and species levels. However, several recent studies have suggested that population-level variation is either limited or that it is mostly a consequence of phenotypic plasticity. Here we show that there is considerable physiological inertia in cold hardiness, upper thermal tolerance limits and desiccation resistance in caterpillars of the sub-Antarctic moth Embryonopsis halticella Eaton, such that populations from two climatically different islands are physiologically very similar. Both populations are moderately chill tolerant, with no difference in the supercooling points of caterpillars (-17 to -20 degrees C). Within their host plants caterpillars of both populations freeze at substantially higher, and statistically equivalent temperatures (-9.5 to -11.5 degrees C). The populations also have similar upper lethal limits (38 degrees C), and survival times of dry conditions (6-170 h depending on mass). The previously inexplicably low freezing point of caterpillars at the climatically less severe Marion Island seems likely a consequence of physiological inertia given that the freezing point of caterpillars within their hosts is only a few degrees below absolute minima at the older, and colder, Heard Island. Lack of adaptive geographic variation in physiological traits has consequences for models of range limits, and highlights the importance of exploring phenotypic plasticity as a response to climatic variation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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