Comparative biochemistry and physiology. Part A, Molecular & integrative physiology
The success of insects in terrestrial environments is due in large part to their ability to resist desiccation stress. Since the majority of water is lost across the cuticle, a relatively water-impermeable cuticle is a major component of insect desiccation resistance. Cuticular permeability is affected by the properties and mixing effects of component hydrocarbons, and changes in cuticular hydrocarbons can affect desiccation tolerance. A pre-exposure to a mild desiccation stress increases duration of desiccation survival in adult female Drosophila melanogaster, via a decrease in cuticular permeability. To test whether this acute response to desiccation stress is due to a change in cuticular hydrocarbons, we treated male and female D. melanogaster to a rapid desiccation hardening (RDH) treatment and used gas chromatography to examine the effects on cuticular hydrocarbon composition. RDH led to reduced proportions of unsaturated and methylated hydrocarbons compared to controls in females, but although RDH modified the cuticular hydrocarbon profile in males, there was no coordinated pattern. These data suggest that the phenomenon of RDH leading to reduced cuticular water loss occurs via an acute change in cuticular hydrocarbons that enhances desiccation tolerance in female, but not male, D. melanogaster.