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Respir Physiol Neurobiol. 2006 Nov;154(1-2):18-29. Epub 2006 Jul 25.

Discontinuous gas exchange in insects.

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Department of Basic Science, Midwestern University, 19555 North 59th Avenue, Glendale, AZ 85308, USA.


Insect respiratory physiology has been studied for many years, and interest in this area of insect biology has become revitalized recently for a number of reasons. Technical advances have greatly improved the precision, accuracy and ease with which gas exchange can be measured in insects. This has made it possible to go beyond classic models such as lepidopteran pupae and examine a far greater diversity of species. One striking result of recent work is the realization that insect gas exchange patterns are much more diverse than formerly recognized. Current work has also benefited from the inclusion of comparative methods that rigorously incorporate phylogenetic, ecological and life history information. We discuss these advances in the context of the classic respiratory pattern of insects, discontinuous gas exchange. This mode of gas exchange was exhaustively described in moth pupae in the 1950s and 1960s. Early workers concluded that discontinuous gas exchange was an adaptation to reduce respiratory water loss. This idea is no longer universally accepted, and several competing hypotheses have been proposed. We discuss the genesis of these alternative hypotheses, and we identify some of the predictions that might be used to test them. We are pleased to report that what was once a mature discipline, in which the broad parameters and adaptive significance of discontinuous gas exchange were thought to be well understood, is now a thriving and vigorous field of research.

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