Because insects are ectotherms, temperature can have a profound impact on individual growth. In general, insect growth is correlated with environmental temperature; however, the strength of this relationship may be species- and habitat-specific. For example, many terrestrial insects exhibit little to no growth at low temperatures (0-4°C) because of either reduced feeding rates or overall low metabolic activity. Aquatic insects, in contrast, particularly those whose evolutionary ancestral habitat was in cold streams or lakes, can exhibit high growth rates during winter, assuming the presence of an adequate food supply. Although feeding rates of these insects may be low at reduced temperatures, basal metabolic needs also are low and result in the ability of the insect to direct more of the energy derived from ingestion to growth. The interactions between food quantity and quality and temperature are complex. In some streams, water temperature can influence the growth of microbial populations attached to detrital particles that are ingested by filter-feeding aquatic insects, and in turn, this can enhance their growth rate. This type of indirect control on aquatic insect growth and survivorship is difficult to separate from the direct effects of temperature on insect metabolism.
Elevated environmental temperatures also can result in either high or low larval growth rates because of the influence of temperature on larval ingestion, digestion, and development time. In general, larval ingestion and digestion are positively correlated with temperature and should result in increased growth rates at higher temperatures. The effect of temperature on growth rate, however, is confounded by an inverse relationship between ingestion rates and assimilation rates. In contrast, high temperatures can accelerate developmental time, resulting in the inability of larvae to maximize absolute growth rates.
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