Woodlice? No let’s call them sow bugs because it totally sounds more appealing! Despite our general associations of lice with the disgusting tiny microscopic nuisances that reside in the hair on various parts of the body of humans, woodlice are far better received. These small creatures reside in moist and cool conditions in forest habitats and are play an active role as decomposers in their ecosystem.
Well, why should we care about these little guys? Just like how we would feel slightly uncomfortable sitting out in the scorching sun slowly but surely becoming dehydrated with no water in sight, sow bugs have it worse because they lose water through the underside of their belly where pleopods or gill like structures used for breathing and through their skin. Due to anthropogenic causes the climate is changing, temperatures are rising and this could potentially have a devastating effect on sow bugs because an increase in temperature would cause them to lose water from their body via. evaporation at an accelerated rate. If they are unable to find moist environments to counteract this loss they will most likely perish. In addition global warming could also increase the rate of precipitation which might seem like a good thing for sow bugs but it could have an opposite effect where they drown if they are submerged in water because they wouldn’t be able to breath.
This study was set up to examine the effects of increasing temperature and increasing soil moisture on the behavior of the sow bug. First, two choice experiments were conducted to see if sow bugs actually preferred one temperature over another, or one soil moisture over another. Secondly, two behavior experiments were conducted to examine the speed of sow bugs in each of the different conditions. Below are pictures depicting the setup.
Choice experiment setup for temperature. Choice experiment setup for soil moisture.
The results were interesting to say the least! As expected sowbugs chose environments that were more moist and colder from the choice experiments. However, speed wasn’t impacted when sowbugs were asked to run around in soils containing different levels of moisture. One possible explanation for this was possibly that they were comfortable with the conditions they were in, and decided to just chill out while clinging to a small piece of soil. The opposite was observed with temperature where at high temperatures where it seemed to light a fire under their bums and they zoomed around the petri dish like they wanted no part of the hotness. This behavior can be explained by the increase in evaporation rates associated with higher temperatures, hence they are actively trying to escape the high heat and find cooler and moist areas where they can breathe easily. Overall, these results suggest that more rain may not have much of an effect on these sowbugs but increase in temperatures certainly will. In a big way.
For more information of sowbug physiology and how they respond to stimuli
And an interesting video of how sowbugs move and look realtime!