Cockroaches that exchange respiratory gases discontinuously survive food and water restriction

Evolution. 2012 Feb;66(2):597-604. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2011.01456.x. Epub 2011 Oct 3.


Metabolic rate and respiratory gas exchange patterns vary significantly both between and within species, even after a number of biotic and abiotic factors are taken into account. This suggests that such variation is of evolutionary importance, but the life history implications of this variation remain relatively poorly characterized. In the present study, we examine the effect of metabolic variation on starvation and desiccation resistance in the speckled cockroach Nauphoeta cinerea. We also compare the starvation and desiccation resistance of individuals that exchange respiratory gases continuously with those that breathe discontinuously. We show that metabolic rate has no effect on survival during food and water restriction, but cockroaches exhibiting discontinuous gas exchange cycles (DGCs) live longer than those that do not and those provisioned with water lived longer than those that were not. This finding represents the first demonstration that DGCs confer a fitness benefit, and supports the oldest hypothesis for the evolution of DGCs (which suggests that DGCs arose or are maintained to reduce respiratory water loss) as we also reveal reduced water loss (both respiratory and total) in cockroaches exhibiting discontinuous gas exchange.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basal Metabolism
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism
  • Cockroaches / physiology*
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena
  • Survival
  • Water / metabolism


  • Water
  • Carbon Dioxide