Flies developed small bodies and small cells in warm and in thermally fluctuating environments

Marcin Czarnoleski, Brandon S. Cooper, Justyna Kierat, Michael J. Angilletta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Although plasma membranes benefit cells by regulating the flux of materials to and from the environment, these membranes cost energy to maintain. Because smaller cells provide relatively more membrane area for transport, ectotherms that develop in warm environments should consist of small cells despite the energetic cost. Effects of constant temperatures on cell size qualitatively match this prediction, but effects of thermal fluctuations on cell size are unknown. Thermal fluctuations could favour either small or large cells; small cells facilitate transport during peaks in metabolic demand whereas large cells minimize the resources needed for homeoviscous adaptation. To explore this problem, we examined effects of thermal fluctuations during development on the size of epidermal cells in the wings of Drosophila melanogaster. Flies derived from a temperate population were raised at two mean temperatures (18 and 25°C), with either no variation or a daily variation of ±4°C. Flies developed faster at a mean temperature of 25°C. Thermal fluctuations sped development, but only at 18°C. An increase in the mean and variance of temperature caused flies to develop smaller cells and wings. Thermal fluctuations reduced the size of males at 18°C and the size of females at 25°C. The thorax, the wings and the cells decreased with an increase in the mean and in the variance of temperature, but the response of cells was the strongest. Based on this pattern, we hypothesize that development of the greater area of membranes under thermal fluctuations provides a metabolic advantage that outweighs the greater energetic cost of remodelling membranes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2896-2901
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • Body size
  • Cell size
  • Drosophila melanogaster
  • Homeoviscous adaptation
  • Oxygen permeability
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Plasma membrane
  • Thermal adaptation


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