International conference explores effect of climate change on coldblooded insects

What do the wildly fluctuating temperatures we experience today do to insects? How do pesticides affect hibernation? And how do crickets, whose song reminds so many of summer days and autumn nights, shut their metabolism down in the winter?

These and hundreds of other questions will be asked (and answered) this week as many of the world’s greatest biologists meet for a major international conference designed specifically to explore how organisms can possibly survive in today’s ever-changing and explicitly extreme environment.

All told, more than 80 researchers from around the world will visit London, Ontario from August 12-16 as Western University hosts the fifth International Symposium on the Environmental Physiology of Ectotherms and Plants (ISEPEP5).

“This year, the focus is on insects and how they survive in very hot, cold or dry places, but there are a range of other talks on topics as diverse as arctic worms and Siberian beetles,” explains Brent Sinclair, a professor in Western’s Faculty of Science and the organizer of ISEPEP5.

Simply put, ectothermic animals are cold blooded organisms and their body temperatures conform to the temperature of the environment.

“This means that when it’s hot, their body temperatures can get very warm, and when it’s cold, they run the risk of freezing,” explains Sinclair. “In spite of this, animals are found all over the globe, from hot deserts to high mountains and the polar regions. The delegates of ISEPEP5 will be gathering to discuss the mechanisms that animals use to tolerate these extremes, how different strategies evolved and perhaps most importantly, how these organisms will be affected by climate change.”

Sinclair is thrilled to bring ISEPEP5 to Canada as previous host countries have included Denmark, New Zealand, Japan and France.

“I first attended a meeting of this group in 1998 as a graduate student,” recalls Sinclair. “I’m delighted to host ISEPEP5 at Western and that the students in my lab will have an opportunity to participate too.”

ISEPEP5 is sponsored by Western University, the Journal of Experimental Biology and Sable Systems International.

For more information on ISEPEP5, please visit http://www.uwo.ca/biology/ISEPEP5/Preliminary%20programme.html