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J Exp Biol. 2013 Apr 1;216(Pt 7):1174-82. doi: 10.1242/jeb.076539. Epub 2012 Nov 29.

Mortality from desiccation contributes to a genotype-temperature interaction for cold survival in Drosophila melanogaster.

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Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


Survival at cold temperatures is a complex trait, primarily because of the fact that the physiological cause of injury may differ across degrees of cold exposure experienced within the lifetime of an ectothermic individual. In order to better understand how chill-sensitive insects experience and adapt to low temperatures, we investigated the physiological basis for cold survival across a range of temperature exposures from -4 to 6°C in five genetic lines of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Genetic effects on cold survival were temperature dependent and resulted in a significant genotype-temperature interaction for survival across cold temperature exposures that differ by as little as 2°C. We investigated desiccation as a potential mechanism of injury across these temperature exposures. Flies were dehydrated following exposures near 6°C, whereas flies were not dehydrated following exposures near -4°C. Furthermore, decreasing humidity during cold exposure decreased survival, and increasing humidity during cold exposure increased survival at 6°C, but not at -4°C. These results support the conclusion that in D. melanogaster there are multiple physiological mechanisms of cold-induced mortality across relatively small differences in temperature, and that desiccation contributes to mortality for exposures near 6°C but not for subzero temperatures. Because D. melanogaster has recently expanded its range from tropical to temperate latitudes, the complex physiologies underlying cold tolerance are likely to be important traits in the recent evolutionary history of this fruit fly.

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