Responses to hypoxia have been investigated in many species; however, comparative studies between conspecific geographical populations at different altitudes are rare, especially for invertebrates. The migratory locust, Locusta migratoria, is widely distributed around the world, including on the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau (TP) and the low-altitude North China Plain (NP). TP locusts have inhabited Tibetan Plateau for over 34,000 years and thus probably have evolved superior capacity to cope with hypoxia.
Here we compared the hypoxic responses of TP and NP locusts from morphological, behavioral, and physiological perspectives. We found that TP locusts were more tolerant of extreme hypoxia than NP locusts. To evaluate why TP locusts respond to extreme hypoxia differently from NP locusts, we subjected them to extreme hypoxia and compared their transcriptional responses. We found that the aerobic metabolism was less affected in TP locusts than in NP locusts. RNAi disruption of PDHE1β, an entry gene from glycolysis to TCA cycle, increased the ratio of stupor in TP locusts and decreased the ATP content of TP locusts in hypoxia, confirming that aerobic metabolism is critical for TP locusts to maintain activity in hypoxia.
Our results indicate that TP and NP locusts have undergone divergence in hypoxia tolerance. These findings also indicate that insects can adapt to hypoxic pressure by modulating basic metabolic processes.