Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 187, Issue 8, pp 1107–1116 | Cite as

Effects of desiccation and starvation on thermal tolerance and the heat-shock response in forest ants

  • Andrew D. Nguyen
  • Kerri DeNovellis
  • Skyler Resendez
  • Jeremy D. Pustilnik
  • Nicholas J. Gotelli
  • Joel D. Parker
  • Sara Helms Cahan
Original Paper


Temperature increases associated with global climate change are likely to be accompanied by additional environmental stressors such as desiccation and food limitation, which may alter how temperature impacts organismal performance. To investigate how interactions between stressors influence thermal tolerance in the common forest ant, Aphaenogaster picea, we compared the thermal resistance of workers to heat shock with and without pre-exposure to desiccation or starvation stress. Knockdown (KD) time at 40.5 °C of desiccated ants was reduced 6% compared to controls, although longer exposure to desiccation did not further reduce thermal tolerance. Starvation, in contrast, had an increasingly severe effect on thermal tolerance: at 21 days, average KD time of starved ants was reduced by 65% compared to controls. To test whether reduction in thermal tolerance results from impairment of the heat-shock response, we measured basal gene expression and transcriptional induction of two heat-shock proteins (hsp70 and hsp40) in treated and control ants. We found no evidence that either stressor impaired the Hsp response: both desiccation and starvation slightly increased basal Hsp expression under severe stress conditions and did not affect the magnitude of induction under heat shock. These results suggest that the co-occurrence of multiple environmental stressors predicted by climate change models may make populations more vulnerable to future warming than is suggested by the results of single-factor heating experiments.


Ants Heat-shock response Desiccation Heat-shock proteins Starvation Thermal tolerance 





Heat-shock response


Heat-shock protein gene


Heat-shock protein 70 gene


Heat-shock protein 40 gene


Glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase


Elongation factor 1 Beta


Real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction


Generalized linear model


Analysis of variance


Median lethal time



We thank Lori Stevens for technical support and two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments and suggestions that significantly improved the manuscript. This work was supported by a Broadening Participation REU supplement to NSF-DEB Grant #1136644.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

No competing interest declared.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew D. Nguyen
    • 1
  • Kerri DeNovellis
    • 1
  • Skyler Resendez
    • 2
  • Jeremy D. Pustilnik
    • 1
  • Nicholas J. Gotelli
    • 1
  • Joel D. Parker
    • 2
  • Sara Helms Cahan
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA
  2. 2.Biological SciencesState University of New York PlattsburghPlattsburghUSA

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