Changes in haemolymph parameters and insect ability to respond to immune challenge during overwintering (Ecology and Evolution)
Overwintering is a challenging period in the life of temperate insects. A limited energy budget characteristic of this period can result in reduced investment in immune system. Here, we investigated selected physiological and immunological parameters in laboratory-reared and field-collected harlequin ladybirds (Harmonia axyridis). For laboratory-reared beetles, we focused on the effects of winter temperature regime (cold, average or warm winter) on total haemocyte concentration aiming to investigate potential effects of ongoing climate change on immune system in overwintering insects. We recorded strong reduction in haemocyte concentration during winter, however, there were only limited effects of winter temperature regime on changes in haemocyte concentration in the course of overwintering. For field-collected beetles, we measured additional parameters, specifically: total protein concentration, antimicrobial activity against Escherichia coli and haemocyte concentration before and after overwintering. The field experiment did not investigated effects of winter temperature, but focused on changes in inducibility of insect immune system during overwintering, i.e., measured parameters were compared between naïve beetles and those challenged by E. coli. Haemocyte concentration decreased during overwintering, but only in individuals challenged by E. coli. Prior to overwintering, the challenged beetles had a significantly higher haemocyte concentration compared to naïve beetles, whereas no difference was observed after overwintering. A similar pattern was observed also for antimicrobial activity against E. coli as challenged beetles outperformed naïve beetles before overwintering, but not after winter. In both sexes, total protein concentration increased in the course of overwintering, but females had a significantly higher total protein concentration in their haemolymph compared to males. In general, our results revealed that insect’s ability to respond to an immune challenge is significantly reduced in the course of overwintering. All raw data collected during this study are stored here.