Main content area

Role of cuticle hydrocarbons composition in the salinity tolerance of aquatic beetles

Botella-Cruz, María, Pallarés, Susana, Millán, Andrés, Velasco, Josefa
Journal of insect physiology 2019 v.117 pp. 103899
Dytiscidae, Hydrophilidae, alkanes, aquatic insects, habitats, insect physiology, interspecific variation, permeability, saline water, salinity, salt tolerance, species diversity
Salinity tolerance has enabled the colonization of inland saline waters and promoted species diversification in some lineages of aquatic insects. However, the mechanisms behind this tolerance, particularly the role of cuticle hydrocarbons (CHCs), are not well-known. We characterized the CHC profile of eight species of two water beetle genera (Nebrioporus, Adephaga: Dytiscidae and Enochrus, Polyphaga: Hydrophilidae), which span the fresh-hypersaline gradient, to: i) determine the interspecific variation of CHC composition in relation to species’ salinity tolerance; ii) explore plastic adjustments in CHC profiles in response to salinity changes at the intraspecific level in saline-tolerant species. CHC profiles were highly species-specific, more complex and diverse in composition, and characterized by longer-chain-length compounds in the species with higher salinity tolerance within each genus. Higher salinity tolerance in the Enochrus species was also associated with an increase in the relative abundance of branched alkanes, and with a lower proportion of n-alkanes and unsaturated compounds. These CHC characteristics are related with improved waterproofing capacity and suggest that reducing cuticle permeability was one of the key mechanisms to adapt to saline waters. Similar CHC composition patterns were found at the intraspecific level between populations from lower and higher salinity sites within saline-tolerant species of each genus. These saline species also displayed an extraordinary ability to adjust CHC profiles to changing salinity conditions in the laboratory in a relatively short time, which reflects great plasticity and a high potential to deal with daily and seasonal environmental fluctuations in the highly dynamic saline habitats.