Environmental history impacts gene expression during diapause development in the alfalfa leafcutting bee, Megachile rotundata [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

George D. Yocum, Anna K. Childers, Joseph P. Rinehart, Arun Rajamohan, Theresa L. Pitts-Singer, Kendra J. Greenlee, and Julia H. Bowsher

Our understanding of the mechanisms controlling insect diapause has increased dramatically with the introduction of global gene expression techniques, such as RNA sequencing (RNA-seq). However, little attention has been given to how ecologically relevant field conditions may affect gene expression during diapause development because previous studies have focused on laboratory-reared and -maintained insects. To determine whether gene expression differs between laboratory and field conditions, prepupae of the alfalfa leafcutting bee, Megachile rotundata, entering diapause early or late in the growing season were collected. These two groups were further subdivided in early autumn into laboratory- and field-maintained groups, resulting in four experimental treatments of diapausing prepupae: early and late field, and early and late laboratory. RNA-seq and differential expression analyses were performed on bees from the four treatment groups in November, January, March and May. The number of treatment-specific differentially expressed genes (97 to 1249) outnumbered the number of differentially regulated genes common to all four treatments (14 to 229), indicating that exposure to laboratory or field conditions had a major impact on gene expression during diapause development. Principle component analysis and hierarchical cluster analysis yielded similar grouping of treatments, confirming that the treatments form distinct clusters. Our results support the conclusion that gene expression during the course of diapause development is not a simple ordered sequence, but rather a highly plastic response determined primarily by the environmental history of the individual insect.

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