Survival and gene expression under different temperature and humidity regimes in ants

PLoS One. 2017 Jul 31;12(7):e0181137. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181137. eCollection 2017.


Short term variation in environmental conditions requires individuals to adapt via changes in behavior and/or physiology. In particular variation in temperature and humidity are common, and the physiological adaptation to changes in temperature and humidity often involves alterations in gene expression, in particular that of heat-shock proteins. However, not only traits involved in the resistance to environmental stresses, but also other traits, such as immune defenses, may be influenced indirectly by changes in temperature and humidity. Here we investigated the response of the ant F. exsecta to two temperature regimes (20°C & 25°C), and two humidity regimes (50% & 75%), for two populations. We measured the survival and the expression of six metabolism- and immunity-related genes, and furthermore compared the expression levels in each condition with the pre-experiment expression levels. Both populations survived equally well at the two humidities, but one population showed higher mortality at 25°C than 20°, at 50% humidity. Similarly, the two populations showed striking differences in their gene expression before the experiment, and in their responses to the environmental conditions. Surprisingly, instead of converging to similar expression levels in the same environmental conditions, gene expression diverged further apart. This indicates different reaction norms to both temperature and humidity for the two populations. Furthermore, our results suggest that also immune defenses are indirectly affected by environmental conditions.

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization
  • Animals
  • Ants / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism
  • Humidity*
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Temperature*


  • Heat-Shock Proteins

Grant support

This work was supported by Academy of Finland (grants #251337, #252411, #284666) ( Financial funding; University of Helsinki ( Financial funding; Societas pro Flora et Fauna Fennica ( Financial funding (Dimitri Stucki); and Doctoral Programme in Wildlife Biology Research ( Financial funding (Dimitri Stucki). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.