Multigenerational Effects of Rearing Atmospheric Oxygen Level on the Tracheal Dimensions and Diffusing Capacities of Pupal and Adult Drosophila melanogaster
Insects are small relative to vertebrates, and were larger in the Paleozoic when atmospheric oxygen levels were higher. The safety margin for oxygen delivery does not increase in larger insects, due to an increased mass-specific investment in the tracheal system and a greater use of convection in larger insects. Prior studies have shown that the dimensions and number of tracheal system branches varies inversely with rearing oxygen in embryonic and larval insects. Here we tested whether rearing in 10, 21, or 40 kPa atmospheric oxygen atmospheres for 5–7 generations affected the tracheal dimensions and diffusing capacities of pupal and adult Drosophila. Abdominal tracheae and pupal snorkel tracheae showed weak responses to oxygen, while leg tracheae showed strong, but imperfect compensatory changes. The diffusing capacity of leg tracheae appears closely matched to predicted oxygen transport needs by diffusion, perhaps explaining the consistent and significant responses of these tracheae to rearing oxygen. The reduced investment in tracheal structure in insects reared in higher oxygen levels may be important for conserving tissue PO2 and may provide an important mechanism for insects to invest only the space and materials necessary into respiratory structure.
KeywordsInsect Evolution Tracheal system Gigantism
Use of the Advanced Photon Source was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, under Contract No. DE-AC02-06CH11357. This research was also supported by NSF EAR 0746352 and NSF IBN 0419704 to JFH.
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