Adaptative responses of ectothermic organisms to thermal variation typically involve the reorganization of membrane glycerophospholipids (GPLs) to maintain membrane function. We investigated how acclimation at 15, 20 and 25 degrees C during preimaginal development influences the thermal tolerance and the composition of membrane GPLs in adult Drosophila melanogaster. Long-term cold survival was significantly improved by low acclimation temperature. After 60 h at 0 degrees C, more than 80% of the 15 degrees C-acclimated flies survived while none of the 25 degrees C-acclimated flies survived. Cold shock tolerance (1h at subzero temperatures) was also slightly better in the cold acclimated flies. LT50 shifted down by ca 1.5 degrees C in 15 degrees C-acclimated flies in comparison to those acclimated at 25 degrees C. In contrast, heat tolerance was not influenced by acclimation temperature. Low temperature acclimation was associated with the increase in proportion of ethanolamine (from 52.7% to 58.5% in 25 degrees C-acclimated versus 15 degrees C-acclimated flies, respectively) at the expense of choline in GPLs. Relatively small, but statistically significant changes in lipid molecular composition were observed with decreasing acclimation temperature. In particular, the proportions of glycerophosphoethanolamines with linoleic acid (18:2) at the sn-2 position increased. No overall change in the degree of fatty acid unsaturation was observed. Thus, cold tolerance but not heat tolerance was influenced by preimaginal acclimation temperature and correlated with the changes in GPL composition in membranes of adult D. melanogaster.