Keeping Pace With Climate Change: What Is Wrong With the Evolutionary Potential of Upper Thermal Limits?

Ecol Evol. 2012 Nov;2(11):2866-80. doi: 10.1002/ece3.385. Epub 2012 Oct 13.


The potential of populations to evolve in response to ongoing climate change is partly conditioned by the presence of heritable genetic variation in relevant physiological traits. Recent research suggests that Drosophila melanogaster exhibits negligible heritability, hence little evolutionary potential in heat tolerance when measured under slow heating rates that presumably mimic conditions in nature. Here, we study the effects of directional selection for increased heat tolerance using Drosophila as a model system. We combine a physiological model to simulate thermal tolerance assays with multilocus models for quantitative traits. Our simulations show that, whereas the evolutionary response of the genetically determined upper thermal limit (CTmax) is independent of methodological context, the response in knockdown temperatures varies with measurement protocol and is substantially (up to 50%) lower than for CTmax. Realized heritabilities of knockdown temperature may grossly underestimate the true heritability of CTmax. For instance, assuming that the true heritability of CTmax in the base population is h(2) = 0.25, realized heritabilities of knockdown temperature are around 0.08-0.16 depending on heating rate. These effects are higher in slow heating assays, suggesting that flawed methodology might explain the apparently limited evolutionary potential of cosmopolitan D. melanogaster.

Keywords: CTmax; heating rate; knockdown resistance; metabolic rate; selection responses; thermotolerance.