Cuticular colour reflects underlying architecture and is affected by a limiting resource
Evison SEF, Gallagher JD, Thompson JJW, Siva-Jothy MT, Armitage SAO – 2017
Central to the basis of ecological immunology are the ideas of costs and trade-offs between immunity and life history traits. As a physical barrier, the insect cuticle provides a key resistance trait, and Tenebrio molitor shows phenotypic variation in cuticular colour that correlates with resistance to the entomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium anisopliae. Here we first examined whether there is a relationship between cuticular colour variation and two aspects of cuticular architecture that we hypothesised may influence resistance to fungal invasion through the cuticle: its thickness and its porosity. Second, we tested the hypothesis that tyrosine, a semi-essential amino acid required for immune defence and cuticular melanisation and sclerotisation, can act as a limiting resource by supplementing the larval diet and subsequently examining adult cuticular colouration and thickness. We found that stock beetles and beetles artificially selected for extremes of cuticular colour had thicker less porous cuticles when they were darker, and thinner more porous cuticles when they were lighter, showing that colour co-varies with two architectural cuticular features. Experimental supplementation of the larval diet with tyrosine led to the development of darker adult cuticle and affected thickness in a sex-specific manner. However, it did not affect two immune traits. The results of this study provide a mechanism for maintenance of cuticular colour variation in this species of beetle; darker cuticles are thicker, but their production is potentially limited by resource constraints and differential investments in resistance mechanisms between the sexes.