Linking trophic interactions to plasticity in thermal sensitivity of geographically separated populations of a herbivore

Abstract

The ability of species to tolerate a warming climate has important implications for ecological functioning. Theory and empirical synthesis suggest species adapted to more thermally variable climates are more capable of acclimating to rising temperatures, and are therefore characterized by greater phenotypic plasticity, than species adapted to less thermally variable environments. But this pattern has not been extensively evaluated for populations within a species that may inhabit different parts of a thermal gradient. In addition, it remains unclear whether different populations with different thermal sensitivities will maintain the same functional ecological roles as thermal regimes shift. To address this question, we conducted a reciprocal transplant experiment using Melanoplus femurrubrum grasshopper populations from Connecticut and Vermont, USA. During summer, the Vermont site was 3 °C cooler on average with 1.5-fold greater temperature variation than the Connecticut site. We measured thermal sensitivity (metabolic rate Q10) of individuals from each population reared in home field and transplanted sites and the nature and strength of trophic interactions with grasses and goldenrod (Solidago). Both grasshopper populations exhibited plasticity, but Q10 of both populations at Vermont was 1.5-fold broader than populations at the Connecticut site. All grasshoppers had similar survivorship but not similar effects on plants, exhibiting stronger effects on grasses in their home fields relative to their transplanted sites. Only Vermont grasshoppers transplanted to Connecticut significantly impacted Solidago. The study shows populations may physiologically acclimate quickly under new thermal conditions, suggesting stronger tolerance to change than often presumed. But, thermal acclimatization may not translate into the maintenance of a species’ functional role. The work underscores the need to link analyses of physiological performance with ecological function to obtain a complete picture of climate change effects on communities.

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Acknowledgments

The study was supported by a Yale Climate and Energy Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship to AER; by funds from the Yale Forestry and Environmental Studies Schiff Fund and Sussman Fund, the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies, and the Norcross Wildlife Fund to BTC; and by Funds provided by NSF Grant DEB-1354762 to OJS. We thank Lauren Smith, Colin Donihue, Max Lambert, Robert Buchkowski, Brandon Barton, and three anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier draft. We also thank Yale-Myers Forest and Kevin Johnston for allowing us to conduct the experiment on their property.

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Correspondence to Adam E. Rosenblatt.

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Adam E. Rosenblatt and Bryan T. Crowley have contributed equally to the work.

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Rosenblatt, A.E., Crowley, B.T. & Schmitz, O.J. Linking trophic interactions to plasticity in thermal sensitivity of geographically separated populations of a herbivore. Evol Ecol 30, 649–661 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10682-016-9827-6

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Keywords

  • Environmental warming
  • Reciprocal transplant experiment
  • Latitudinal climate differential
  • Physiological Q10 effect
  • Melanoplus femurrubrum
  • Macrophysiology