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J Exp Biol. 1995;198(Pt 7):1613-20.

Ant breathing: testing regulation and mechanism hypotheses with hypoxia


Using normoxic and hypoxic flow-through respirometry, we investigated the regulation of the closed-spiracle (C) and the nature of the fluttering-spiracle (F) phases of the discontinuous gas-exchange cycle (DGC) of the ant Camponotus vicinus. We predicted that as ambient O2 concentrations declined, DGC frequency would increase, because C phase duration would decrease (reflecting earlier hypoxic initiation of the F phase) and F phase duration would shorten (reflecting nitrogen accumulation), if convective mass inflow caused by a negative pressure gradient across the spiracles, rather than by diffusion, is the dominant F phase gas-exchange mechanism. C phase duration decreased with declining ambient O2 concentrations, as predicted. In contrast, DGC frequency decreased and F phase duration increased with decreasing ambient O2 concentrations. This was opposite to the expected trend if gas exchange in the F phase was mediated by convection, as is generally hypothesized. We therefore cannot disprove that F phase gas exchange was largely or purely diffusion-based. In addition, our data show equivalent molar rates of H2O and CO2 emission during the F phase. In contrast, during the open-spiracle phase, the duration of which was not affected by ambient O2 concentration, far more H2O than CO2 was lost. We discuss these findings and suggest that current hypotheses of F phase gas-exchange mechanisms and function in reducing respiratory water loss in adult insects may require revision.

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