Cold tolerance of the Antarctic nematodes Plectus murrayi and Scottnema lindsayae
During the austral summer, larvae of the terrestrial midge Belgica antarctica (Diptera: Chironomidae) experience highly variable and often unpredictable thermal conditions. In addition to remaining freeze tolerant year-round, larvae are capable of swiftly increasing their cold tolerance through the rapid cold-hardening (RCH) response. The present study compared the induction of RCH in frozen versus supercooled larvae. At the same induction temperature, RCH occurred more rapidly and conferred a greater level of cryoprotection in frozen versus supercooled larvae. Furthermore, RCH in frozen larvae could be induced at temperatures as low as -12°C, which is the lowest temperature reported to induce RCH. Remarkably, as little as 15 min at -5°C significantly enhanced larval cold tolerance. Not only is protection from RCH acquired swiftly, but it is also quickly lost after thawing for 2 h at 2°C. Because the primary difference between frozen and supercooled larvae is cellular dehydration caused by freeze concentration of body fluids, we also compared the effects of acclimation in dehydrated versus frozen larvae. Because slow dehydration without chilling significantly increased larval survival to a subsequent cold exposure, we hypothesize that cellular dehydration caused by freeze concentration promotes the rapid acquisition of cold tolerance in frozen larvae.