Comparative transcriptomics of ice-crawlers demonstrates cold specialization constrains niche evolution in a relict lineage

Sean D. Schoville*, Sabrina Simon, Ming Bai, Zachary Beethem, Roman Y. Dudko, Monika J.B. Eberhard, Paul B. Frandsen, Simon C. Küpper, Ryuichiro Machida, Max Verheij, Peter C. Willadsen, Xin Zhou, Benjamin Wipfler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Key changes in ecological niche space are often critical to understanding how lineages diversify during adaptive radiations. However, the converse, or understanding why some lineages are depauperate and relictual, is more challenging, as many factors may constrain niche evolution. In the case of the insect order Grylloblattodea, highly conserved thermal breadth is assumed to be closely tied to their relictual status, but has not been formerly tested. Here, we investigate whether evolutionary constraints in the physiological tolerance of temperature can help explain relictualism in this lineage. Using a comparative transcriptomics approach, we investigate gene expression following acute heat and cold stress across members of Grylloblattodea and their sister group, Mantophasmatodea. We additionally examine patterns of protein evolution, to identify candidate genes of positive selection. We demonstrate that cold specialization in Grylloblattodea has been accompanied by the loss of the inducible heat shock response under both acute heat and cold stress. Additionally, there is widespread evidence of selection on protein-coding genes consistent with evolutionary constraints due to cold specialization. This includes positive selection on genes involved in trehalose transport, metabolic function, mitochondrial function, oxygen reduction, oxidative stress, and protein synthesis. These patterns of molecular adaptation suggest that Grylloblattodea have undergone evolutionary trade-offs to survive in cold habitats and should be considered highly vulnerable to climate change. Finally, our transcriptomic data provide a robust backbone phylogeny for generic relationships within Grylloblattodea and Mantophasmatodea. Major phylogenetic splits in each group relate to arid conditions driving biogeographical patterns, with support for a sister-group relationship between North American Grylloblatta and Altai-Sayan Grylloblattella, and a range disjunction in Namibia splitting major clades within Mantophasmatodea.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Sep 2020


  • adaptation
  • gene regulation
  • Grylloblattodea
  • insect phylogenomics
  • niche conservatism
  • protein evolution

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