Water Balance in Desert Arthropods

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Science  26 May 1967:
Vol. 156, Issue 3778, pp. 1059-1066
DOI: 10.1126/science.156.3778.1059


As judged by the number of species, or of individuals, arthropods are an extremely successful group of desert inhabitants. There is very great structural and physiological diversity within the group, and since adaptations to desert life open to one are not open to all. we should not expect to find the maximum possible development of adaptive features in any arthropod simply because it lives in a desert. Most adult insects fly; their larvae and all other arthropods do not, and their adaptations will differ accordingly. Desert beetles have very impermeable cuticles and tolerate high body temperatures, while desert cockroaches live below the sand. have more permeable cuticles, and absorb water vapor.There is probably no single respect in which all desert arthropods differ from insects of other environments. Perhaps a profitable way of viewing desert animals is to recognize that each is a whole organism with a specific collection of adaptations that must be consistent within themselves and which are associated with a specific mode of life and a specific evolutionary history.

The arthropod organization is capable of producing highly efficient desert species. There is, however, a converse way of looking at the situation, Which is often neglected but which may be of general biological interest: does the evolution of adaptations to desert environments necessarily involve loss of viability in more mesic habitats? If so, then what are these disavantages— what, for example, is the disadvantage of a highly impermeable cuticle? In some cases the answer is clear: sandroaches need sand dunes to live in because they are morphologically and behaviorly specialized for this habitat. More often the answer is not obvious.