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The hyperoxic switch: assesing respiratory water loss rates in tracheate arthropods with continous gas exchange

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Partitioning the relative contributions of cuticular and respiratory water loss in a tracheate arthropod is relatively easy if it undergoes discontinuous gas exchange cycles or DGCs, leaving its rate of cuticular water loss in primary evidence while its spiracles are closed. Many arthropods are not so obliging and emit CO2 continuously, making cuticular and respiratory water losses difficult or impossible to partition. We report here that by switching ambient air from 21 to 100% O2, marked spiracular constriction takes place, causing a transient but substantial - up to 90% - reduction in CO2 output. A reduction in water loss rate occurs at the same time. Using this approach, we investigated respiratory water loss in Drosophila melanogaster and in two ant species, Forelius mccooki and Pogonomyrmex californicus. Our results - respiratory water loss estimates of 23%, 7.6% and 5.6% of total water loss rates, respectively - are reasonable in light of literature estimates, and suggest that the 'hyperoxic switch' may allow straightforward estimation of respiratory water loss rates in arthropods lacking discontinuous gas exchange. In P. californicus, which we were able to measure with and without a DGC, presence or absence of a DGC did not affect respiratory vs total water loss rates.

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