Fertility and mortality impacts of thermal stress from experimental heatwaves on different life stages and their recovery in a model insect

Kris Sales (Lead Author), Ramakrishnan Vasudeva, Matthew Gage

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38 Citations (Scopus)
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With climate change creating a more volatile atmosphere, heatwaves that create thermal stress for living systems will become stronger and more frequent. Using the flour beetle Tribolium castaneum, we measure the impacts of thermal stress from experimental heatwaves in the laboratory on reproduction and survival across different insect life stages, and the extent and pace of any recovery. We exposed larvae, pupae, juvenile and mature adult male beetles to 5-day periods of heat stress where temperatures were maintained at either 40°C or 42°C, a few degrees above the 35°C optimum for this species' population productivity, and then measured survival and reproduction compared with controls at 30°C. Mortality due to thermal stress was greatest among juvenile life stages. Male reproductive function was specifically damaged by high temperatures, especially if experienced through pupal or immature life stages when complete sterility was shown at reproductive maturity; larval exposure did not damage adult male fertility. High temperatures impaired testis development and the production of viable sperm, with damage being strongest when experienced during pupal or juvenile adult stages. Despite this disruption, males recovered from heat stress and, depending on the stage of exposure, testis size, sperm production and fertility returned to normal 15–28 days after exposure. Our experiments reveal how thermal stress from heatwave conditions could impact on insect survival and reproduction across different life stages, and the potential and timescales of recovery.
Original languageEnglish
Article number201717
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2021


  • Tribolium
  • sperm
  • reproduction
  • fertility
  • climate change
  • testes volume

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