(ORDO NEWS) — Climate change is a major challenge for many animals, and recent research shows it can wreak havoc on even the hardiest species on our planet.
Having adapted for tens of millions of years to freeze into ice every winter, now the Antarctic wingless mosquito hibernates later and it takes more work to get out of it.
The wingless ringing mosquito Belgica antarctica , living on the Antarctic Peninsula and adjacent islands, is perhaps the most hardy insect in the world.
There are only two species of animals that live year-round on continental Antarctica, and the mosquito is one of these two (the second species is the Antarctic non-parasitic tick).
Less than a centimeter from head to tip of abdomen, this tiny creature lives on the banks of shallow waters and in seabird nests, where its voracious larvae feed on plants and rotting organic matter.
The life cycle of Belgica antarctica lasts only about a year: adult insects, unable to eat, die with the advent of winter, so only larvae and pupae overwinter under a layer of snow.
To prevent ice crystals from damaging their fragile bodies from the inside, insects use a cunning tactic: they slowly dry out, after which the onset of frost shackles them until next spring, allowing them to save energy reserves for a new cycle.
However, now this whole monotonous, but adjusted to degrees Celsius, system may collapse due to the increasingly warm Antarctic winters. Every decade, temperatures in the Antarctic Peninsula rise by half a degree, causing mosquitoes hidden in moss under the snow to hibernate later, remain active longer and lose more energy.
To accurately assess the impact of global warming on Belgica antarctica , the researchers collected several insects from the Antarctic island of Anvers and shipped them to a laboratory in the US, where the animals hibernated under controlled temperature conditions.
After that, the insects were thawed and checked for internal damage and preserved reserves of carbohydrates, fats and proteins in the body.
It turned out that even a small difference in the temperature regime seriously affected the survival of larvae and pupae: if after wintering at minus five degrees, about half of the insects safely came to life, then a warmer “winter” at minus one degree left only a third of the animals alive.
They also differed in their retained energy reserves, which are key to successful reproduction: “warm” larvae that consumed more nutrients over the winter were less likely to leave healthy offspring.
If the temperature on the planet continues to rise, the experimental results of scientists can become a reality: depending on the rate and magnitude of growth, this risks turning into both a serious nuisance and a decisive blow to the Belgica antarctica population.
It is possible that if the climate changes more smoothly, insects will be able to adapt to the changed conditions – for example, compensating for winter losses with reserves that they will be able to accumulate during the lengthened polar summer.
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