The chicken or the egg? Adaptation to desiccation and salinity tolerance in a lineage of water beetles.
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Transitions from fresh to saline habitats are restricted to a handful of insect lineages, since the colonization of saline waters requires specialized mechanisms to deal with osmotic stress. Previous studies have suggested that tolerance to salinity and desiccation could be mechanistically and evolutionarily linked, but the temporal sequence of these adaptations is not well established for individual lineages. We combined molecular, physiological and ecological data to explore the evolution of desiccation resistance, hyporegulation ability (i.e. the ability to osmoregulate in hyperosmotic media) and habitat transitions in the water beetle genus Enochrus subgenus Lumetus (Hydrophilidae). We tested whether enhanced desiccation resistance evolved before increases in hyporegulation ability or vice versa, or whether the two mechanisms evolved in parallel. The most recent ancestor of Lumetus was inferred to have high desiccation resistance and moderate hyporegulation ability. There were repeated shifts between habitats with differing levels of salinity in the radiation of the group; those to the most saline habitats generally occurring more rapidly than those to less saline ones. Significant and accelerated changes in hyporegulation ability evolved in parallel with smaller and more progressive increases in desiccation resistance across the phylogeny, associated with the colonisation of meso- and hypersaline waters during global aridification events. All species with high hyporegulation ability were also desiccation-resistant, but not vice versa. Overall, results are consistent with the hypothesis that desiccation resistance mechanisms evolved first and provided the physiological basis for the development of hyporegulation ability, allowing these insects to colonize and diversify across meso- and hypersaline habitats. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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