2021 journal article

Limited plasticity in thermally tolerant ectotherm populations: evidence for a trade-off

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

author keywords: thermal acclimation; phenotypic plasticity; heat tolerance; trade-off hypothesis; climate change; local adaptation
MeSH headings : Acclimatization; Adaptation, Physiological; Climate Change; Ecosystem; Temperature; Thermotolerance
Source: ORCID
Added: September 8, 2021

Many species face extinction risks owing to climate change, and there is an urgent need to identify which species' populations will be most vulnerable. Plasticity in heat tolerance, which includes acclimation or hardening, occurs when prior exposure to a warmer temperature changes an organism's upper thermal limit. The capacity for thermal acclimation could provide protection against warming, but prior work has found few generalizable patterns to explain variation in this trait. Here, we report the results of, to our knowledge, the first meta-analysis to examine within-species variation in thermal plasticity, using results from 20 studies (19 species) that quantified thermal acclimation capacities across 78 populations. We used meta-regression to evaluate two leading hypotheses. The climate variability hypothesis predicts that populations from more thermally variable habitats will have greater plasticity, while the trade-off hypothesis predicts that populations with the lowest heat tolerance will have the greatest plasticity. Our analysis indicates strong support for the trade-off hypothesis because populations with greater thermal tolerance had reduced plasticity. These results advance our understanding of variation in populations' susceptibility to climate change and imply that populations with the highest thermal tolerance may have limited phenotypic plasticity to adjust to ongoing climate warming.