Ectotherms commonly adjust their lipid composition to ambient temperature to counteract detrimental thermal effects on lipid fluidity. However, the extent of lipid remodeling and the associated fitness consequences under continuous temperature fluctuations are not well-described. The objective of this study was to investigate the effect of repeated temperature fluctuations on fatty acid composition and thermal tolerance. We exposed the springtail Orchesella cincta to two constant temperatures of 5 and 20 °C, and a continuously fluctuating treatment between 5 and 20 °C every 2 days. Fatty acid composition differed significantly between constant low and high temperatures. As expected, animals were most cold tolerant in the low temperature treatment, while heat tolerance was highest under high temperature. Under fluctuating temperatures, fatty acid composition changed with temperature initially, but later in the experiment fatty acid composition stabilized and closely resembled that found under constant warm temperatures. Consistent with this, heat tolerance in the fluctuating temperature treatment was comparable to the constant warm treatment. Cold tolerance in the fluctuating temperature treatment was intermediate compared to animals acclimated to constant cold or warmth, despite the fact that fatty acid composition was adjusted to warm conditions. This unexpected finding suggests that in animals acclimated to fluctuating temperatures an additional underlying mechanism is involved in the cold shock response. Other aspects of homeoviscous adaptation may protect animals during extreme cold. This paper forms a next step to fully understand the functioning of ectotherms in more thermally variable environments
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