Density-dependent physiological phase in insects

Annu Rev Entomol. 1999;44:317-41. doi: 10.1146/annurev.ento.44.1.317.


Insects respond to crowding in a variety of ways that are usually exemplified by rapid changes in behavior and culminate in enduring long-term morphological and/or chromatic responses. A common feature of both short-term and long-term effects is that they are graded, dependent not only on density but also on the duration and on phase history of the maternal generation. Because of their exoskeletons, which are persistent for the duration of each instar and endure throughout adult life, overt changes in morphology or coloration are restricted to the molting period and shortly afterward, when cuticular hardening and pigmentation are expressed. Changes in internal organs or metabolism elicited by population density, being independent of integumental constraints, are not restricted to the molting period, but the temporal difference between internal and external responses is not of fundamental significance. Intraspecific responses to the presence of sibling insects are of apparent ecological significance and often involve directional movement and/or migration. They are mediated via the sensory system, involve signal transduction, and elicit downstream biochemical and physiological changes.