NEW PAPER OUT! Seasonal plasticity of thermal tolerance in ants

Ant Sampling

Great to see another publication out from one of my favorite places to do field work, the University of Oklahoma Biological Station. This is the 4th pub for 2020, which is shaping up to be quite the productive year! Recently published in Ecology, Jelena and I were interested in seeing if thermal tolerance, an important trait for understanding activity patterns of ants, changed over the seasons with temperature. We collected ants across three seasons in Oklahoma across a range of temperatures finding some pretty interesting results. A summary from Jelena…

“Analyses of heat tolerance in insects often suggest that this trait is relatively invariant, leading to the use of fixed thermal maxima in models predicting future distribution of species in a warming world. Seasonal environments expose populations to a wide annual temperature variation. To evaluate the simplifying assumption of invariant thermal maxima, we quantified heat tolerance of 26 ant species across three seasons that vary two‐fold in mean temperature. Our ultimate goal was to test the hypothesis that heat tolerance tracks monthly temperature. Ant foragers tested at the end of the summer, in September, had higher average CTmax compared to those in March and December. Four out of five seasonal generalists—species actively foraging in all three focal months—had, on average, 6°C higher CTmax in September. The invasive fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, was among the thermally plastic species, but the native thermal specialists still maintained higher CTmax than S. invicta. Our study shows that heat tolerance can be plastic, and this should be considered when examining species‐level adaptations. Moreover, the plasticity of thermal traits, while potentially costly, may also generate a competitive advantage over species with fixed traits and promote resilience to climate change.”