SPM Journal Club: Thermal Reaction Norms in Seasonal Environments
The evolution of reaction norms such as thermal performance is tightly linked to ecological processes, and eco-evolutionary models can provide important insights especially in varying environments.
We discuss a recent paper using an eco-evolutionary approach to the study of thermal reaction norms, integrating quantitative genetics and the dynamics of structured populations:
Thermal reaction norms of ectotherms exhibit a distinctive latitudinal pattern: the temperature at which performance is maximized coincides with the mean habitat temperature in tropical ectotherms but exceeds the mean temperature in temperate ectotherms. We hypothesize, on the basis of Jensen’s inequality, that this pattern is driven by latitudinal variation in seasonal temperature fluctuations. We test this hypothesis with an eco-evolutionary model that integrates the quantitative genetics of reaction norm evolution with stage-structured population dynamics, which we parameterize with data from insects. We find that thermal optima of temperate and Mediterranean species evolve to exceed the mean habitat temperature if seasonal fluctuations are strong, while the thermal optimum of tropical species evolves to coincide with the mean habitat temperature if fluctuations are weak. Importantly, ecological dynamics can impose a constraint on reaction norm evolution. Tropical species cannot tolerate an increase in seasonal fluctuations at the high mean habitat temperature it experiences, while the temperate species cannot tolerate a reduction in seasonal fluctuations if the mean temperature is higher. In both cases, stochastic extinction during periods of low abundances precludes adaptation to a novel thermal environment. Our findings suggest a potential directionality in colonization success. Tropical ectotherms, because of their high thermal optima, can successfully colonize temperate habitats, while temperate ectotherms, because of their low optima, are less successful in colonizing tropical habitats