Rapid cold hardening: ecological relevance, physiological mechanisms and new perspectives

Nicholas M. Teets, J. D. Gantz, Yuta Kawarasaki

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Rapid cold hardening (RCH) is a type of phenotypic plasticity that allows ectotherms to quickly enhance cold tolerance in response to brief chilling (lasting minutes to hours). In this Review, we summarize the current state of knowledge of this important phenotype and provide new directions for research. As one of the fastest adaptive responses to temperature known, RCH allows ectotherms to cope with sudden cold snaps and to optimize their performance during diurnal cooling cycles. RCH and similar phenotypes have been observed across a diversity of ectotherms, including crustaceans, terrestrial arthropods, amphibians, reptiles, and fish. In addition to its well-defined role in enhancing survival to extreme cold, RCH also protects against nonlethal cold injury by preserving essential functions following cold stress, such as locomotion, reproduction, and energy balance. The capacity for RCH varies across species and across genotypes of the same species, indicating that RCH can be shaped by selection and is likely favored in thermally variable environments. Mechanistically, RCH is distinct from other rapid stress responses in that it typically does not involve synthesis of new gene products; rather, the existing cellular machinery regulates RCH through post-translational signaling mechanisms. However, the protective mechanisms that enhance cold hardiness are largely unknown. We provide evidence that RCH can be induced by multiple triggers in addition to low temperature, and that rapidly induced tolerance and cross-tolerance to a variety of environmental stressors may be a general feature of stress responses that requires further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberjeb203448
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work is supported by Hatch Project 1010996 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and National Science Foundation grant OIA-1826689 to N.M.T.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Company of Biologists Ltd. All rights reserved.


  • Cold tolerance
  • Ectotherm
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Rapid cold hardening
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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