Humidity stress and its consequences for male pre- and post-copulatory fitness traits in an insect

Leigh W. Simmons, Maxine Lovegrove, Xin Du, Yonglin Ren, Melissa L. Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Global declines in insect abundance are of significant concern. While there is evidence that climate change is contributing to insect declines, we know little of the direct mechanisms responsible for these declines. Male fertility is compromised by increasing temperatures, and the thermal limit to fertility has been implicated as an important factor in the response of insects to climate change. However, climate change is affecting both temperature and hydric conditions, and the effects of water availability on male fertility have rarely been considered. Here we exposed male crickets Teleogryllus oceanicus to either low or high-humidity environments while holding temperature constant. We measured water loss and the expression of both pre- and postmating reproductive traits. Males exposed to a low-humidity environment lost more water than males exposed to a high-humidity environment. A male's cuticular hydrocarbon profile (CHC) did not affect the amount of water lost, and males did not adjust the composition of their CHC profiles in response to hydric conditions. Males exposed to a low-humidity environment were less likely to produce courtship song or produced songs of low quality. Their spermatophores failed to evacuate and their ejaculates contained sperm of reduced viability. The detrimental effects of low-humidity on male reproductive traits will compromise male fertility and population persistence. We argue that limits to insect fertility based on temperature alone are likely to underestimate the true effects of climate change on insect persistence and that the explicit incorporation of water regulation into our modeling will yield more accurate predictions of the effects of climate change on insect declines.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere10244
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023

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