Coleoptera (beetles) is a massively successful order of insects, distinguished by their evolutionarily modified forewings called elytra. These structures are often presumed to have been a major driving force for the successful radiation of this taxon, by providing beetles with protection against a variety of harsh environmental factors. However, few studies have directly demonstrated the functional significance of the elytra against diverse environmental challenges. Here, we sought to empirically test the function of the elytra using Tribolium castaneum (the red flour beetle) as a model. We tested four categories of stress on the beetles: physical damage to hindwings, predation, desiccation, and cold shock. We found that, in all categories, the presence of elytra conferred a significant advantage compared to those beetles with their elytra experimentally removed. This work provides compelling quantitative evidence supporting the importance of beetle forewings in tolerating a variety of environmental stresses, and gives insight into how the evolution of elytra have facilitated the remarkable success of beetle radiation.
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This work was supported by a Miami University departmental grant to A.W.H. and D.M.L. and National Science Foundation to Y.T. (IOS 0950964 and IOS 1557936).
Linz, David M.; Hu, Alan W.; Sitvarin, Michael I.; and Tomoyasu, Yoshinori, "Functional Value of Elytra Under Various Stresses in the Red Flour Beetle, Tribolium castaneum" (2016). Entomology Faculty Publications. 114.