Most insects are chill susceptible and will enter a coma if exposed to sufficiently low temperature. This chill coma has been associated with a failure of the neuromuscular system. Insect heart rate (HR) is determined by intrinsic regulation (muscle pacemaker) with extrinsic (nervous and humoral) input. By examining the continually active heart of five Drosophila species with markedly different cold tolerance, we investigated whether cardiac performance is related to the whole animal critical thermal minimum (CTmin). Further, to separate the effects of cold on extrinsic and intrinsic regulators of HR, we measured HR under similar conditions in decapitated flies as well as amputated abdomens of Drosophila montana. Cardiac performance was assessed from break points in HR-temperature relationship (Arrhenius break point, ABP) and from the HR cessation temperature. Among the five species, we found strong relationships for both the HR-ABP and HR cessation temperatures to whole animal CTmin, such that temperate Drosophila species maintained cardiac function at considerably lower temperatures than their tropical congeners. Hearts of amputated abdomens, with reduced extrinsic input, had a higher thermal sensitivity and a significantly lower break point temperature, suggesting that central neuronal input is important for stimulating HR at low temperatures.
Keywords: Central nervous system; Chill tolerance; Decapitated flies; Drosophila heart rate; Muscle function.
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