, Volume 88, Issue 11, pp 447-460
Date: 27 Sep 2001

Thermal and water relations of desert beetles

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The physical problems that living organisms have to contend with in hot deserts are primarily extremes of temperature, low humidity, shortage or absence of free water, and the environmental factors that accentuate these – such as strong winds, sand-storms, lack of shade, rocky and impenetrable soils. Climatic factors are particularly important to smaller animals such as arthropods on account of their relatively enormous surface to volume ratios. Nevertheless, beetles (especially Tenebrionidae and, to a lesser extent, Chrysomelidae) are among the most successful animals of the desert, and are often the only ones to be seen abroad during the day. Similar physical problems are experienced by insects in all terrestrial biomes, but they are much enhanced in the desert. Although climatic extremes are often avoided by burrowing habits coupled with circadian and seasonal activity rhythms, as well as reproductive phenology, several species of desert beetle are nevertheless able to withstand thermal extremes that would rapidly cause the death of most other arthropods including insects. The reactions of desert beetles to heat are largely behavioural whilst their responses to water shortage are primarily physiological. The effects of coloration are not discussed. In addition to markedly low rates of transpiration, desert beetles can also withstand a considerable reduction in the water content of their tissues. The study of desert beetles is important because it illustrates many of the solutions evolved by arthropods to the problems engendered, in an extreme form, by life in all terrestrial environments.

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