Ectotherm thermal stress and specialization across altitude and latitude

  • Buckley L
  • Miller E
  • Kingsolver J
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Abstract

Gradients of air temperature, radiation, and other climatic factors change systematically but differently with altitude and latitude. We explore how these factors combine to produce altitudinal and latitudinal patterns of body temperature, thermal stress, and seasonal overlap that differ markedly from patterns based solely on air temperature. We use biophysical models to estimate body temperature as a function of an organism's phenotype and environmental conditions (air and surface temperatures and radiation). Using grasshoppers as a case study, we compare mean body temperatures and the incidence of thermal extremes along altitudinal gradients both under past and current climates. Organisms at high elevation can experience frequent thermal stress despite generally cooler air temperatures due to high levels of solar radiation. Incidences of thermal stress have increased more rapidly than have increases in mean conditions due to recent climate change. Increases in air temperature have coincided with shifts in cloudiness and solar radiation, which can exacerbate shifts in body temperature. We compare altitudinal thermal gradients and their seasonality between tropical and temperate mountains to ask whether mountain passes pose a greater physiological barrier in the tropics (Janzen's hypothesis). We find that considering body temperature rather than air temperature generally increases the amount of overlap in thermal conditions along gradients in elevation and thus decreases the physiological barrier posed by tropical mountains. Our analysis highlights the limitations of predicting thermal stress based solely on air temperatures, and the importance of considering how phenotypes influence body temperatures.

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Authors

  • Ethan MillerYale University, School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

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  • Lauren B. Buckley

  • Joel G. Kingsolver

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