In the face of global warming, both the absolute thermal tolerance of an ectotherms, and its ability to shift its tolerance level via acclimation, are thought to be fundamentally important. Understanding the links between tolerance and its plasticity is therefore critical to accurately predict vulnerability to warming. Previous studies in a number of ectotherm taxa suggest trade-offs in the evolution of thermal tolerance and its plasticity, something which does not, however, apply to Deronectes diving beetles, where these traits are instead positively correlated. Here we revisit the relationship between thermal tolerance and plasticity in these beetles, paying attention to a recently discovered morphological adaptation supporting under water respiration - setal tracheal gills. Hollow setae on the elytra interconnect with the beetle's tracheal system, providing a gas exchange surface that allows oxygen to be extracted directly from the water. This enables individuals to stay submerged for longer than their subelytral air stores would allow. We show that hypoxia reduced heat tolerance, especially when individuals were denied access to air, forcing them to rely solely on aquatic gas exchange. Species with higher densities of these gas-exchanging setae exhibited improved cold tolerance, but reduced heat tolerance and lower plasticity of heat tolerance. Differences in setal tracheal gill density across species were also related to habitat use: species with low gill density were found mainly in intermittent, warmer rivers, where underwater gas exchange is more problematic and risks of surfacing may be smaller. Moreover, when controlling for differences in gill density we no longer found a significant relationship between heat tolerance and its plasticity, suggesting that the previously reported positive relationship between these variables may be driven by differences in gill density. Differences in environmental conditions between the preferred habitats could simultaneously select for characteristic differences in both thermal tolerance and gill density. Such simultaneous selection may have resulted in a non-causal association between cold tolerance and gill density. For heat tolerance, the correlations with gill density could reflect a causal relationship. Species relying strongly on diffusive oxygen uptake via setal tracheal gills may have a reduced oxygen supply capacity and may be left with fewer options for matching oxygen uptake to oxygen demand during acclimation, which could explain their reduced heat tolerance and limited plasticity. Our study helps shed light on the mechanisms that underpin thermal tolerance and plasticity in diving air-breathing ectotherms, and explores how differences in thermal tolerance across species are linked to their selected habitat, morphological adaptations and evolutionary history.



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J Insect Physiol

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School of Biological and Marine Sciences


Acclimation, Dytiscidae, Ecophysiology, Heat tolerance, Hypoxia