Like all taxa, populations of aquatic insects may respond to climate change by evolving new physiologies or behaviors, shifting their range, exhibiting physiological and behavioral plasticity, or going extinct. We evaluated the importance of plasticity by measuring changes in growth, survival and respiratory phenotypes of salmonfly nymphs (the stonefly Pteronarcys californica) in response to experimental combinations of dissolved oxygen and temperature. Overall, smaller individuals grew more rapidly during the 6-week experimental period, and oxygen and temperature interacted to affect growth in complex ways. Survival was lower for the warm treatment, although only four mortalities occurred (91.6% versus 100%). Nymphs acclimated to warmer temperatures did not have higher critical thermal maxima (CTmax), but those acclimated to hypoxia had CTmax values (in normoxia) that were higher by approximately 1°C. These results suggest possible adaptive plasticity of systems for taking up or delivering oxygen. We examined these possibilities by measuring the oxygen sensitivity of metabolic rates and the morphologies of tracheal gill tufts located ventrally on thoracic segments. Mass-specific metabolic rates of individuals acclimated to warmer temperatures were higher in acute hypoxia but lower in normoxia, regardless of their recent history of oxygen exposure during acclimation. The morphology of gill filaments, however, changed in ways that appeared to depress rates of oxygen delivery in functional hypoxia. Our combined results from multiple performance metrics indicate that rising temperatures and hypoxia may interact to magnify the risks to aquatic insects, but that physiological plasticity in respiratory phenotypes may offset some of these risks.

You do not currently have access to this content.