The speed and metabolic cost of digesting a blood meal depends on temperature in a major disease vector
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The energetics of processing a meal is crucial for understanding energy budgets of animals in the wild. Given that digestion and its associated costs may be dependent on environmental conditions, it is necessary to obtain a better understanding of these costs under diverse conditions and identify resulting behavioural or physiological trade-offs. This study examines the speed and metabolic costs – in cumulative, absolute and relative energetic terms – of processing a bloodmeal for a major zoonotic disease vector, the tsetse fly Glossina brevipalpis, across a range of ecologically relevant temperatures (25, 30 and 35°C). Respirometry showed that flies used less energy digesting meals faster at higher temperatures but that their starvation tolerance was reduced, supporting the prediction that warmer temperatures are optimal for bloodmeal digestion while cooler temperatures should be preferred for unfed or post-absorptive flies. 13C-Breath testing revealed that the flies oxidized dietary glucose and amino acids within the first couple of hours of feeding and overall oxidized more dietary nutrients at the cooler temperatures, supporting the premise that warmer digestion temperatures are preferred because they maximize speed and minimize costs. An independent test of these predictions using a thermal gradient confirmed that recently fed flies selected warmer temperatures and then selected cooler temperatures as they became post-absorptive, presumably to maximize starvation resistance. Collectively these results suggest there are at least two thermal optima in a given population at any time and flies switch dynamically between optima throughout feeding cycles.