Climate change may harm male fertility

Federico Mansilla
Noviembre 15, 2018

Research into red flour beetles by University Of East Anglia scientists has found a link between climate change and fertility.

After exposing beetles to five-day heatwaves, with temperatures 5C to 7C higher, the amount of sperm produced was halved, while a second heatwave nearly sterilised them.

"Two concerning results were the impact of successive heatwaves on males, and the impacts of heatwaves on future generations", said Sales.

Birth rates among people already dip in very hot periods, and not just because the prospect of a particularly sweaty tryst can sound fairly unappealing, scientists believe. "When males were exposed to two heatwave events 10 days apart, their offspring production was less than 1 percent of the control group".

'Insects in nature are likely to experience multiple heatwave events, which could become a problem for population productivity if male reproduction cannot adapt or recover'.

Females were found to be be unaffected by the rise in temperature, which was 5°C to 7°C above the beetles' thermal optimum.

Following the five days, a series of experiments determined the potential damage to the beetle's reproductive success and sperm function. With the insects that experienced the heatwave, fertility in male insects was reduced by three quarters, and any sperm that was produced couldn't migrate to the female insect, and ending up dying before fertilization took place.

The research tea looked at the red flour beetle (Tribolium castaneum) to see how a simulated heat wave affected male reproduction ability and habits.

The findings were then published in the Nature Communications journal on November 13. Even when offspring were sired by heatwave dads, they lived shorter lives than the control subjects.

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Kris Sales, a postgraduate researcher who led the research, said: "Our research shows that heatwaves halve male reproductive fitness, and it was surprising how consistent the effect was".

The researchers hope that the effects can be incorporated into models predicting species vulnerability and, ultimately, could help inform societal understanding and conservation actions.

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'We've shown in this work that sperm function is an especially sensitive trait when the environment heats up, and in a model system representing a huge amount of global biodiversity.

'Since sperm function is essential for reproduction and population viability, these findings could provide one explanation for why biodiversity is suffering under climate change.

A warmer atmosphere will be more volatile and hazardous, with extreme events like heatwaves becoming increasingly frequent, intense and widespread, researchers said.

Heatwaves can damage the sperm of insects and make them nearly sterile, according to new research. Local extinctions are known to occur when temperature changes become too intense.

"We'd really like to know what the mechanism of this trans-generational damage is", he said.

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