Coping with the climate: cuticular hydrocarbon acclimation of ants under constant and fluctuating conditions.

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Sprenger, Philipp P  ORCID logo
Burkert, Lars H 
Abou, Bérengère 
Federle, Walter 

Terrestrial arthropods achieve waterproofing by a layer of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs). At the same time, CHCs also serve as communication signals. To maintain waterproofing under different climate conditions, insects adjust the chemical composition of their CHC layer, but this may affect the communication via CHCs. The detailed acclimatory changes of CHCs and how these influence their physical properties are still unknown. Here, we studied acclimation in two closely related ant species with distinct CHC profiles, Myrmica rubra and Myrmica ruginodis, in response to constant or fluctuating temperature and humidity regimes. We measured how acclimation affected CHC composition and viscosity, and the ants' drought survival. In both species, CHC composition showed strong, predictable responses to temperature regimes. Warm-acclimated individuals had higher proportions of linear alkanes, and less methyl-branched or unsaturated CHCs. These changes coincided with higher solid content and viscosity of CHCs in warm-acclimated ants. Temperature fluctuation caused effects similar to those observed under constant-cool conditions in Mrubra, but led to entirely different profiles in Mruginodis, suggesting that fluctuating and constant conditions pose very different challenges. Acclimation to dry conditions led to higher absolute amounts of CHCs, which increased the ants' drought survival, whereas temperature acclimation did not. Hence, the temperature-induced CHC changes cannot be explained by the need for waterproofing alone. Although these changes could be non-adaptive, we propose that they serve to maintain a constant CHC viscosity, which may be essential for communication and other functions.

CHCs, Desiccation resistance, Drought survival, Microrheology, Phenotypic plasticity, Viscosity, Acclimatization, Animals, Ants, Climate, Climate Change, Hot Temperature, Humidity, Hydrocarbons, Rheology, Species Specificity
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J Exp Biol
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The Company of Biologists
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/I008667/1)
Isaac Newton Trust (MINUTE 443(V))
Royal Society (IE140503)
European Commission Horizon 2020 (H2020) Marie Sk?odowska-Curie actions (642861)
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/E004156/1)