|Kehl, S; Dettner, K: Surviving submerged - Setal tracheal gills for gas exchange in adult rheophilic diving beetles, Journal of Morphology, 270, 1348-1355 (2009), doi:10.1002/jmor.10762|
The gas exchange in adult diving beetles (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae) relies on a subelytral air store, which has to be renewed in regular intervals at the water surface. The dive duration varies from a few minutes to 24 h depending on the species, activity, and temperature. However, some species remain submerged for several weeks. Stygobiont species do not ascend to the surface and gas exchange of these species remains unclear, but it is assumed that they require air filled voids for respiration or they use cutaneous respiration. In this study, we investigate the gas exchange in the running water diving beetle Deronectes aubei, which survive submerged for over 6 weeks. The diffusion distance through the cuticle is too great for cutaneous respiration. Therefore, the dissolved oxygen uptake of submerged beetles was determined and an oxygen uptake via the rich tracheated elytra was observed. Fine structure analyses (SEM and TEM) of the beetles showed tracheated setae mainly on the elytral surface, which acts as tracheal gills. Prevention of the air bubble formation at the tip of the abdomen, which normally act as physical gill in Dytiscidae, resulted in no effect in oxygen uptake in D. aubei, but this was the sole way for a submerged Hydroporus palustris to get oxygen. The setal gas exchange technique explains the restriction of D. aubei to rivers and brooks with high oxygen concentration and it may also be used by subterran living diving beetles, which lack access to atmospheric oxygen. The existence of setal tracheal gills in species in running water which are often found in the hyporheic zone and in stygobiont species supports the known evolution of stygobiont Dytiscidae from species of the hyporheic zone. For species in running water, setal tracheal gills could be seen as an adaptation to avoid drifting downstream by the current.