Topical application of ice-nucleating-active bacteria decreases insect cold tolerance
Strong-Gunderson, Janet M.
Lee, Richard E.
Lee, Marcia R.
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The majority of overwintering insects avoid lethal freezing by lowering the temperature at which ice spontaneously nucleates within their body fluids. We examined the effect of ice-nucleating-active bacteria on the cold-hardiness of the lady beetle, Hippodamia convergens, a freeze-intolerant species that overwinters by supercooling to ca. −16°C. Topical application of the ice-nucleating-active bacteria Pseudomonas syringae increased the supercooling point to temperatures as high as −3°C. This decrease in cold tolerance was maintained for at least 3 days after treatment. Various treatment doses (108, 106, and 104 bacteria per ml) and modes of action (bacterial ingestion and topical application) were also compared. At the highest concentration of topically applied P. syringae, 50% of the beetles froze between −2 and −4°C. After topical application at the lowest concentration, 50% of the individuals froze by −11°C. In contrast, beetles fed bacteria at this concentration did not begin to freeze until −10°C, and 50% were frozen only at temperatures of −13°C or less. In addition to reducing the supercooling capacity in H. convergens, ice-nucleating-active bacteria also significantly reduced the cold-hardiness of four additional insects. These data demonstrate that ice-nucleating-active bacteria can be used to elevate the supercooling point and thereby decrease insect cold tolerance. The results of this study support the proposition that ice-nucleating-active bacteria may be used as a biological insecticide for the control of insect pests during the winter.