The mechanical linkage of abdominal movements and the respiratory system in beetles


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Virginia Tech


Abdominal pumping is a well-known behavior in insects, thought to function largely in respiratory processes. In particular, the abdominal pump is considered to produce ventilation of air in the tracheal system, but the mechanistic link between abdominal movement and flow of air is not well understood. In this thesis, we explore the relationship between the abdominal pump and ventilation of air using pupal and adult forms of the darkling beetle Zophobas morio.

First, we investigated the mechanical linkage between abdominal pumping and active ventilation in pupae by simultaneously measuring abdominal movement, hemolymph pressure, CO2 emission, and deformation of tracheal tubes. This study revealed that pupae with low metabolic rates do indeed exhibit tracheal compression, which is coincident with abdominal pumping and pressure pulsation. However, more than 63% of the abdominal pumps and associated pressure pulsations did not lead to tracheal compression. This result can be explained by the status of the spiracles; when the system is closed, little compression in the tracheae can occur. Therefore, we conclude that abdominal pumping in insects does not necessarily lead to ventilation and may serve other functions, such as producing hemolymph flow for circulation.

Insects have an open circulatory system, with flow driven largely by the small dorsal vessel. Within the open coelom, hemolymph pressure should be mostly uniform, suggesting that abdominal pumping does not produce hemolymph flows within the main body cavity. We tested this assumption by simultaneously measuring hemolymph pressure in different locations in the coelom. Within the abdomen and thorax, hemolymph pressure is nearly uniform, as expected. However, hemolymph pressures are significantly different between the abdomen and thorax. This suggests that the coelom is compartmentalized, and that abdominal pumping can induce hemolymph flow within the coelom.

Throughout these experiments, we faced a common difficulty inherent to flow-through respirometry systems: they are incapable of providing direct, instantaneous measurement of gas concentration. Previous methods are not able to reconstitute the rapid dynamical changes in respiratory signals that are required for precise temporal analysis. Therefore, we developed two new methods to accurately recover instantaneous gas exchange signals, based on new models of the impulse response of the system. These methods enabled us to accurately recover fast- changing respiratory signals with a higher fidelity than previously possible. Using these methods, we demonstrate the synchronization of respiratory data with other physiologically relevant signals, such as pressure and abdominal movement.

This research was supported by NSF grant #0938047 and the Virginia Tech Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS).



Beetles, Abdominal Movement, Tracheal Collapse, Respiration, Circulation, Gut Motion, Flow Through Respirometry System.