An invitation to measure insect cold tolerance: Methods, approaches, and workflow

J Therm Biol. 2015 Oct;53:180-97. doi: 10.1016/j.jtherbio.2015.11.003. Epub 2015 Nov 10.


Insect performance is limited by the temperature of the environment, and in temperate, polar, and alpine regions, the majority of insects must face the challenge of exposure to low temperatures. The physiological response to cold exposure shapes the ability of insects to survive and thrive in these environments, and can be measured, without great technical difficulty, for both basic and applied research. For example, understanding insect cold tolerance allows us to predict the establishment and spread of insect pests and biological control agents. Additionally, the discipline provides the tools for drawing physiological comparisons among groups in wider studies that may not be focused primarily on the ability of insects to survive the cold. Thus, the study of insect cold tolerance is of a broad interest, and several reviews have addressed the theories and advances in the field. Here, however, we aim to clarify and provide rationale for common practices used to study cold tolerance, as a guide for newcomers to the field, students, and those wishing to incorporate cold tolerance into a broader study. We cover the 'tried and true' measures of insect cold tolerance, the equipment necessary for these measurement, and summarize the ecological and biological significance of each. Finally, we suggest a framework and workflow for measuring cold tolerance and low temperature performance in insects.

Keywords: Acclimation; Chill coma; Cold tolerance strategy; Critical thermal minimum; Deacclimation; Experimental design; Lower lethal temperature; Phenotypic plasticity; Rapid cold-hardening; Supercooling point.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization*
  • Animals
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Entomology / methods
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • Thermometry / methods