Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 April 2005
Resistance to low temperatures can vary markedly among invertebrate species and is directly related to their distribution. Despite the ecological importance of cold resistance this trait has rarely been studied genetically, mainly because low and variable fitness of offspring from cold-stressed mothers makes it difficult to undertake selection experiments and compare cold resistance of parents and offspring. One measure of cold resistance that varies geographically in Drosophila melanogaster and that is amenable to genetic analysis is chill-coma recovery. Three replicate lines of D. melanogaster were selected every second generation, for over 30 generations, for decreased recovery time following exposure to 0 °C. Correlated responses were scored to characterize underlying physiological traits and to investigate interactions with other traits. Lines responded rapidly to the intermittent selection regime with realized heritabilities varying from 33% to 46%. Selected lines showed decreased recovery time after exposure to a broad range of low temperatures and also had a lower mortality following a more severe cold shock, indicating that a general mechanism underlying cold resistance had been selected. The selection response was independent of plastic changes in cold resistance because the selected lines maintained their ability to harden (i.e. a short-term exposure to cool temperature resulted in decreased recovery time in subsequent chill-coma assays). Changes in cold resistance were not associated with changes in resistance to high temperature exposure, and selected lines showed no changes in wing size, development time or viability. However, there was a decrease in longevity in the selected lines due to an earlier onset of ageing. These results indicate that chill-coma recovery can be rapidly altered by selection, as long as selection is undertaken every second generation to avoid carry-over effects, and suggest that lower thermal limits can be shifted towards increased cold resistance independently of upper thermal limits and without tradeoffs in many life-history traits.
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