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Free Content Water or ice? – the challenge for invertebrate cold survival

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The ecophysiology of cold tolerance in many terrestrial invertebrate animals is based on water and its activity at low temperatures, affecting cell, tissue and whole organism functions. The normal body water content of invertebrates varies from 40 to 90% of their live weight, which is influenced by water in their immediate environment, especially in species with a water vapour permeable cuticle. Water gain from, or loss to, the surrounding atmosphere may affect animal survival, but under sub-zero conditions body water status becomes more critical for overwinter survival in many species. Water content influences the supercooling capacity of many insects and other arthropods. Trehalose is known to maintain membrane integrity during desiccation stress in several taxa. Dehydration affects potential ice nucleators by reducing or masking their activity and a desiccation protection strategy has been detected in some species. When water crystallises to ice in an animal it greatly influences the physiology of nearby cells, even if the cells remain unfrozen. A proportion of body water remains unfrozen in many cold hardened invertebrates when they are frozen, which allows basal metabolism to continue at a low level and aids recovery to normal function when thawing occurs. About 22% of total body water remains unfrozen from calculations using differential scanning calorimetry (compared with ca 19% in food materials). The ratio of unfrozen to frozen water components in insects is 1 : 4 (1 : 6 for foods). Such unfrozen water may aid recovery of freezing tolerant species after a freezing exposure. Rapid changes in cold hardiness of some arthropods may be brought about by subtle shifts in body water management. It is recognised that cold tolerance strategies of many invertebrates are related to desiccation resistance, and possibly to mechanisms inherent in insect diapause, but the role of water is fundamental to them all. Detailed experimental studies are needed to provide information which will allow a more complete and coherent understanding of the behaviour of water in biological systems and aid the cryopreservation of a wide range of biological material.
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Keywords: cold tolerance; invertebrate survival

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Science Review, PO Box 314, St. Albans, Herts AL1 4ZG, UK

Publication date: 15 February 2003

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