Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 59, Issue 2, pp 167–174 | Cite as

Characterization of the thermal tolerances of forest ants of New England

Research Article


Characterization of thermal tolerances of ants, which are both abundant and important in most terrestrial ecosystems, is needed since thermal constraints can inform how a species may respond to local climatic change. Here we identified the thermal tolerances of 16 common ant species of the Northeastern United States and determined relationships between body size, desiccation, and thermal tolerance among species. We hypothesized that maximum heat tolerances of these species would differ and be related to body size and capacity to resist desiccation. We identified four distinct groups of species belonging to one of three subfamilies, Dolichoderinae, Formicinae, or Myrmicinae, with different maximum thermal tolerances. Group “a” had a mean thermal tolerance of approximately 43°C (±1°C), group “b” had a mean thermal tolerance of 40°C (±1°C), group “c” had a mean thermal tolerance of 38°C (±0°C), and group “d” had a mean thermal tolerance of 36°C (±0°C). Groups “a” and “d” consisted of a single species (in the subfamilies Myrmicinae and Formicinae, respectively), while groups “b” and “c” were a mix of species in the subfamilies Myrmicinae, Formicinae, and Dolichoderinae. In the subfamily Formicinae, thermal tolerance increased with body size and critical water content, a metric of desiccation tolerance. In contrast, in the subfamily Myrmicinae, higher thermal tolerance was correlated with intermediate body size and lower critical water content. These findings suggest that the two dominant subfamilies in Northeastern deciduous forests have different relationships between body size, capacity to tolerate desiccation, and thermal tolerances across species. This variation in thermal tolerance suggests that climatic change may impact species differently.


Formicidae Climate change Thermal tolerance Desiccation Body size Water balance 



The authors would like to thank the Harvard Forest LTER Research Experience for Undergraduates program for supporting this work (through NSF grant DBI 10-03938). Additional funding was provided by a US DOE PER award (DE-FG02-08ER64510) to Rob Dunn, Aaron Ellison, Nicholas Gotelli, and Nathan Sanders and a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship award to Israel Del Toro. We thank Adam Clark and Marguarete Romero for their laboratory assistance. Additionally we thank Rob Dunn, Aaron Ellison, Nicholas Gotelli, Nathan Sanders, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Wildlife and Fisheries SciencesTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  2. 2.Harvard Forest, Harvard UniversityPetershamUSA
  3. 3.Department of Organismal and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of MassachusettsAmherstUSA
  4. 4.Marine Science Institute, University of Texas at AustinPort AransasUSA

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