Phenotypic plasticity but no adaptive divergence in cuticular hydrocarbons and desiccation resistance among translocated populations of dung beetles

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Abstract

Translocated populations must adapt to their new environment to survive. A key aspect of survival for insects is the maintenance of water balance. It is thought that insects can adapt to dry environments by adjusting their cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) profile to reduce water loss, though there is limited empirical support for this, and studies generally focus on other roles of CHCs, such as chemical communication. We tested for phenotypic adaptation in introduced populations of the Mediterranean dung beetle Onthophagus taurus, which have become established along a climatic gradient from dry northern to wet southern locations in southwestern Australia. We compared CHC profiles and desiccation resistance between northern and southern populations of the species. To quantify desiccation resistance, we measured both the rate of weight loss and time until death in beetles incubated at 35 °C. We tested for associations between these measures of desiccation resistance and CHC profiles, which were obtained through gas chromatography mass spectrometry. The abundance of CHCs was positively associated with desiccation resistance, and individuals that underwent the desiccation treatment produced a greater quantity of several CHC compounds indicating their ability to plastically adjust their CHC profile in response to desiccation stress. However, northern populations did not produce more CHCs than southern populations, and southern populations were better able to tolerate desiccation. Our results suggest that CHCs are an important component of desiccation resistance in O. taurus. However, the lack of evidence for local adaptation to the drier northern climate suggests there may be constraints to increasing desiccation resistance, and demonstrates the importance of considering local environmental conditions before translocating populations to new locations.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEvolutionary Ecology
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Sep 2020

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