Insects exhibit a remarkable array of adaptations that allow them to handle more or less severe hypoxia associated with numerous aquatic and terrestrial habitats. We consider these habitats and then discuss physiological, behavioral and morphological mechanisms that facilitate insect life under oxygen deprivation. Actually or potentially hypoxic habitats include aquatic systems, flood-prone soils and burrows, intertidal zones, ice encasement and high altitudes. Some microhabitats, including dung, carrion, mammalian alimentary canals, grain and wood, also are subject to hypoxia. Adaptations to hypoxia include the ability to switch from aerobic to anaerobic metabolic pathways (with attendant generation of end products), the ability to drastically attenuate basal metabolic rates, altered behaviors and enlarged tracheal system volumes. Research into the biology of hypoxia seems to be progressing from early observations of the abilities of some insects to withstand exposure to hypoxia or anoxia through studies of organismal mechanisms operating in hypoxia to detailed investigations of cellular and intracellular signaling processes. Our hope is this essay will help crystallize the emergent picture of this area for those interested in contributing to future research. © 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd.
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