Diapause in tardigrades: a study of factors involved in encystment

  • Guidetti R
  • Boschini D
  • Altiero T
 et al. 
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Stressful environmental conditions limit survival, growth and reproduction, or these conditions induce resting stages indicated as dormancy. Tardigrades represent one of the few animal phyla able to perform both forms of dormancy: quiescence and diapause. Different forms of cryptobiosis ( quiescence) are widespread and well studied, while little attention has been devoted to the adaptive meaning of encystment ( diapause). Our goal was to determine the environmental factors and token stimuli involved in the encystment process of tardigrades. The eutardigrade Amphibolus volubilis, a species able to produce two types of cyst ( type 1 and type 2), was considered. Laboratory experiments and long-term studies on cyst dynamics of a natural population were conducted. Laboratory experiments demonstrated that active tardigrades collected in April produced mainly type 2 cysts, whereas animals collected in November produced mainly type 1 cysts, indicating that the different responses are functions of the physiological state at the time they were collected. The dynamics of the two types of cyst show opposite seasonal trends: type 2 cysts are present only during the warm season and type 1 cysts are present during the cold season. Temperature represents the environmental factor involved in induction, maintenance and termination of the cyst. We also obtained evidence that A. volubilis is able to perform both diapause and cryptobiosis, even overlapping the two phenomena. The induction phase of tardigrade encystment can be compared to the induction phase of insect diapause, also indicating an involvement of endogenous factors in tardigrade encystment. As in insect diapause, tardigrade encystment can be considered a diapausing state controlled by exogenous and endogenous stimuli.

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  • R. Guidetti

  • D. Boschini

  • T. Altiero

  • R. Bertolani

  • L. Rebecchi

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