Aarhus Universitets segl

Comparing Enchytraeus albidus populations from contrasting climatic environments suggest a link between cold tolerance and metabolic activity

New publication by Anamarija Zagar, Martin Holmstrup, Tatjana Simcic, Barabara Debeljak, and Stine Slotsbo



Basal metabolic activity and freezing of body fluids create reactive oxygen species (ROS) in freeze-tolerant organisms. These sources of ROS can have an additive negative effect via oxidative stress. In cells, antioxidant systems are responsible for removing ROS in order to avoid damage due to oxidative stress. Relatively little is known about the importance of metabolic rate for the survival of freezing, despite a good understanding of several cold tolerance related physiological mechanisms. We hypothesized that low basal metabolism would be selected for in freeze-tolerant organisms where winter survival is important for fitness for two reasons. First, avoidance of the additive effect of ROS production from metabolism and freezing, and second, as an energy-saving mechanism under extended periods of freezing where the animal is metabolically active, but unable to feed. We used the terrestrial oligochaete, Enchytraeus albidus, which is widely distributed from Spain to the high Arctic and compared eight populations originating across a broad geographical and climatic gradient after they had been cold acclimated at 5 °C in a common garden experiment. Cold tolerance (lower lethal temperature: LT50) and the potential metabolic activity (PMA, an estimator of the maximal enzymatic potential of the mitochondrial respiration chain) of eight populations were positively correlated amongst each other and correlated negatively with latitude and positively with average yearly temperature and the average temperature of the coldest month. These results indicate that low PMA in cold tolerant populations is important for survival in extremely cold environments.