When to diapause or not to diapause? Winter predictability is not the answer

Bastien Castagneyrol based on reviews by Md Habibur Rahman Salman, Kévin Tougeron and 1 anonymous reviewer

A recommendation of:
Jens Joschinski and Dries Bonte. Diapause is not selected as a bet-hedging strategy in insects: a meta-analysis of reaction norm shapes (2020), bioRxiv, 752881, ver. 3 recommended and peer-reviewed by Peer Community In Ecology. 10.1101/752881
Submitted: 20 September 2019, Recommended: 29 January 2020
Cite this recommendation as:
Bastien Castagneyrol (2020) When to diapause or not to diapause? Winter predictability is not the answer. Peer Community in Ecology, 100040. 10.24072/pci.ecology.100040

Winter is a harsh season for many organisms that have to cope with food shortage and potentially lethal temperatures. Many species have evolved avoidance strategies. Among them, diapause is a resistance stage many insects use to overwinter. For an insect, it is critical to avoid lethal winter temperatures and thus to initiate diapause before winter comes, while making the most of autumn suitable climatic conditions [1,2]. Several cues can be used to appreciate that winter is coming, including day length and temperature [3]. But climate changes, temperatures rise and become more variable from year to year, which imposes strong pressure upon insect phenology [4]. How can insects adapt to changes in the mean and variance of winter onset?
In this paper, Jens Joschinski and Dries Bonte [5] address this question by using a well conducted meta-analysis of 458 diapause reaction norms obtained from 60 primary studies. They first ask first if insect mean diapause timing is tuned to match winter onset. They further ask if insects adapt to climatic unpredictability through a bet-hedging strategy by playing it safe and avoid risk (conservative bet-hedging) or on the contrary by avoiding to put all their eggs in one basket and spread the risk among their offspring (diversified bet-hedging). From published papers, the authors extracted data on mean diapause timing and information on latitude from which they retrieved day length inducing diapause, the date of winter onset and the day length at winter onset.
They found a positive correlation between latitude and the day length inducing diapause. On the contrary they found positive but (very) weak correlation between the date of winter onset and the date of diapause, thus indicating that diapause timing is not as optimally adapted to local environments as expected, particularly at high latitudes. They only found weak correlations between climate unpredictability and variability in diapause timing, and no correlation between climate unpredictability and deviation from optimal diapause timing. Together, these findings go against the hypothesis that insects use diversified or conservative bet-hedging strategies to cope with uncertainty in climatic conditions.
This is what makes the study thought provoking: the results do not match the theory well. Not because of a lack of data or a narrow scope, but because diapause is a complex trait that is determined by a large array of physiological and ecological factors [3]. Determining what are these factors is of particular interest in the face of the current climate change. This study shows what does not determine the timing of insect diapause. Researchers now know where to look at to improve our understanding of this key aspect of insect adaptation to climatic conditions.


[1] Dyck, H. V., Bonte, D., Puls, R., Gotthard, K., and Maes, D. (2015). The lost generation hypothesis: could climate change drive ectotherms into a developmental trap? Oikos, 124(1), 54–61. doi: 10.1111/oik.02066
[2] Gallinat, A. S., Primack, R. B., and Wagner, D. L. (2015). Autumn, the neglected season in climate change research. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 30(3), 169–176. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2015.01.004
[3] Tougeron, K. (2019). Diapause research in insects: historical review and recent work perspectives. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 167(1), 27–36. doi: 10.1111/eea.12753
[4] Bale, J. S., and Hayward, S. a. L. (2010). Insect overwintering in a changing climate. Journal of Experimental Biology, 213(6), 980–994. doi: 10.1242/jeb.037911
[5] Joschinski, J., and Bonte, D. (2020). Diapause is not selected as a bet-hedging strategy in insects: a meta-analysis of reaction norm shapes. BioRxiv, 752881, ver. 3 recommended and peer-reviewed by PCI Ecology. doi: 10.1101/752881