Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology
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Low temperatures limit the distribution and abundance of ectotherms. However, many insects can survive low temperatures by employing one of two cold tolerance strategies: freeze avoidance or freeze tolerance. Very few species can employ both strategies, but those that do provide a rare opportunity to study the mechanisms that differentiate freeze tolerance and freeze avoidance. We showed that overwintering pupae of the cabbage white butterfly Pieris rapae can be freeze tolerant or freeze avoidant. A population of P. rapae in northeastern Russia (Yakutsk) froze at c. -9.3 °C and were freeze-tolerant in 2002-2003 when overwintered outside. However, P. rapae from both Yakutsk and southern Canada (London) acclimated to milder laboratory conditions in 2014 and 2017 froze at lower temperatures (< -20 °C) and were freeze-avoidant. Summer-collected P. rapae larvae (collected in Yakutsk in 2016) were partially freeze-tolerant, and decreased the temperature at which they froze in response to starvation at mild low temperatures (4 °C) and repeated partial freezing events. By comparing similarly-acclimated P. rapae pupae from both populations, we identified molecules that may facilitate low temperature tolerance, including the hemolymph ice-binding molecules and several potential low molecular weight cryoprotectants. Pieris rapae from Yakutsk exhibited high physiological plasticity, accumulating cryoprotectants and almost doubling their hemolymph osmolality when supercooled to -15 °C for two weeks, while London P. rapae population exhibited minimal plasticity. We hypothesize that physiological plasticity is an important adaptation to extreme low temperatures (i.e. in Yakutsk) and may facilitate the transition between freeze avoidance and freeze tolerance.
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