Impacts of environmental variability on desiccation rate, plastic responses and population dynamics of Glossina pallidipes
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Physiological responses to transient conditions may result in costly responses with little fitness benefits, and therefore, a trade-off must exist between the speed of response and the duration of exposure to new conditions. Here, using the puparia of an important insect disease vector, Glossina pallidipes, we examine this potential trade-off using a novel combination of an experimental approach and a population dynamics model. Specifically, we explore and dissect the interactions between plastic physiological responses, treatment-duration and -intensity using an experimental approach. We then integrate these experimental results from organismal water-balance data and their plastic responses into a population dynamics model to examine the potential relative fitness effects of simulated transient weather conditions on population growth rates. The results show evidence for the predicted trade-off for plasticity of water loss rate (WLR) and the duration of new environmental conditions. When altered environmental conditions lasted for longer durations, physiological responses could match the new environmental conditions, and this resulted in a lower WLR and lower rates of population decline. At shorter time-scales however, a mismatch between acclimation duration and physiological responses was reflected by reduced overall population growth rates. This may indicate a potential fitness cost due to insufficient time for physiological adjustments to take place. The outcomes of this work therefore suggest plastic water balance responses have both costs and benefits, and these depend on the time-scale and magnitude of variation in environmental conditions. These results are significant for understanding the evolution of plastic physiological responses and changes in population abundance in the context of environmental variability.