Hydromedion sparsutum is a locally abundant herbivorous beetle on the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia, often living in close association with the tussock grass Parodiochloa flabellata. Over a 4-day period in mid-summer when the air temperature varied from 0 to 20°C, the temperature in the leaf litter 5–10 cm deep at the base of tussock plants (the microhabitat of H. sparsutum) was consistently within the range of 5–7.5°C. Experiments were carried out to assess the ability of H. sparsutum larvae collected from this thermally stable environment to acclimate when maintained at lower (0°C) and higher (15°C) temperatures. The mean supercooling points (freezing temperature) of larvae collected in January and acclimated at 0°C for 3 and 6 weeks and 15°C for 3 weeks were all within the range of −2.6 to −4.6°C. Larvae in all treatment groups were freeze tolerant. Acclimation at 0°C significantly increased survival in a 15-min exposure at −8°C (from 27 to 96%) and −10°C (from 0 to 63%) compared with the field-fresh and 15°C-treated larvae. Similarly, survival of 0°C-acclimated larvae in a 72-h exposure at −6°C increased from 20 to 83%. Extending the acclimation period at 0°C to 6 weeks did not produce any further increase in cold tolerance. The concentrations of glucose and trehalose in larval body fluids increased significantly with low temperature acclimation. Larvae maintained at 15°C for 3 weeks (none survived for 6 weeks) were less able to survive 1-h exposures between 30 and 35°C than the 0°C-treated samples. Whilst vegetation and snow cover are an effective buffer against low winter temperatures in many polar insects, the inability of H. sparsutum larvae to acclimate or survive at 15°C suggests that protection against high summer temperatures is equally important for this species.
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