Background: The ability to withstand thermal stress is considered to be of crucial importance for individual fitness and species' survival. Thus, organisms need to employ effective mechanisms to ensure survival under stressful thermal conditions, among which phenotypic plasticity is considered a particularly quick and effective one.
Methodology/principal findings: In a series of experiments we here investigate phenotypic adjustment in temperature stress resistance following environmental manipulations in the butterfly Bicyclus anynana. Cooler compared to warmer acclimation temperatures generally increased cold but decreased heat stress resistance and vice versa. In contrast, short-time hardening responses revealed more complex patterns, with, e.g., cold stress resistance being highest at intermediate hardening temperatures. Adult food stress had a negative effect on heat but not on cold stress resistance. Additionally, larval feeding treatment showed interactive effects with adult feeding for heat but not for cold stress resistance, indicating that nitrogenous larval resources may set an upper limit to performance under heat stress. In contrast to expectations, cold resistance slightly increased during the first eight days of adult life. Light cycle had marginal effects on temperature stress resistance only, with cold resistance tending to be higher during daytime and thus active periods.
Conclusions/significance: Our results highlight that temperature-induced plasticity provides an effective tool to quickly and strongly modulate temperature stress resistance, and that such responses are readily reversible. However, resistance traits are not only affected by ambient temperature, but also by, e.g., food availability and age, making their measurement challenging. The latter effects are largely underexplored and deserve more future attention. Owing to their magnitude, plastic responses in thermal tolerance should be incorporated into models trying to forecast effects of global change on extant biodiversity.