Host-mediated shift in the cold tolerance of an invasive insect

Amy C. Morey, Robert C. Venette, Erica C. Nystrom Santacruz, Laurel A. Mosca, W. D. Hutchison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


While many insects cannot survive the formation of ice within their bodies, a few species can. On the evolutionary continuum from freeze-intolerant (i.e., freeze-avoidant) to freeze-tolerant insects, intermediates likely exist that can withstand some ice formation, but not enough to be considered fully freeze tolerant. Theory suggests that freeze tolerance should be favored over freeze avoidance among individuals that have low relative fitness before exposure to cold. For phytophagous insects, numerous studies have shown that host (or nutrition) can affect fitness and cold-tolerance strategy, respectively, but no research has investigated whether changes in fitness caused by different hosts of polyphagous species could lead to systematic changes in cold-tolerance strategy. We tested this relationship with the invasive, polyphagous moth, Epiphyas postvittana (Walker). Host affected components of fitness, such as larval survivorship rates, pupal mass, and immature developmental times. Host species also caused a dramatic change in survival of late-instar larvae after the onset of freezing—from less than 8% to nearly 80%. The degree of survival after the onset of freezing was inversely correlated with components of fitness in the absence of cold exposure. Our research is the first empirical evidence of an evolutionary mechanism that may drive changes in cold-tolerance strategies. Additionally, characterizing the effects of host plants on insect cold tolerance will enhance forecasts of invasive species dynamics, especially under climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8267-8275
Number of pages9
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank P. Hemsted and C. VanSickle for providing plant materials and Dr. N. Caruthers for providing insect egg masses. Thanks also to K. Friedrich, M. Murphy, J. Pohnan, and A. Sloane for assisting with colony and plant maintenance. Drs. D. Denlinger, R. Shaw, T. Kurtti, and T. Twine, and two anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments on earlier drafts.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Copyright 2018 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Epiphyas postvittana
  • fitness
  • partial freeze tolerance
  • polyphagy
  • risk assessment
  • supercooling point


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