Globalization is removing dispersal barriers for the establishment of invasive species and enabling their spread to novel climates. New thermal environments in the invaded range will be particularly challenging for ectotherms, as their metabolism directly depends on environmental temperature. However, we know little about the role climatic niche shifts play in the invasion process, and the underlining physiological mechanisms. We tested if a thermal niche shift accompanies an invasion, and if native and introduced populations differ in their ability to acclimate thermal limits. We used an alien ant species-Tapinoma magnum-which recently started to spread across Europe. Using occurrence data and accompanying climatic variables, we measured the amount of overlap between thermal niches in the native and invaded range. We then experimentally tested the acclimation ability in native and introduced populations by incubating T. magnum at 18, 25 and 30°C. We measured upper and lower critical thermal limits after 7 and 21 days. We found that T. magnum occupies a distinct thermal niche in its introduced range, which is on average 3.5°C colder than its native range. Critical thermal minimum did not differ between populations from the two ranges when colonies were maintained at 25 or 30°C, but did differ after colony acclimation at a lower temperature. We found twofold greater acclimation ability of introduced populations to lower temperatures, after prolonged incubation at 18°C. Increased acclimation ability of lower thermal limits could explain the expansion of the realized thermal niche in the invaded range, and likely contributed to the spread of this species to cooler climates. Such thermal plasticity could be an important, yet so far understudied, factor underlying the expansion of invasive insects into novel climates.
Keywords: acclimation; alien; climatic niche shift; ecophysiology; phenotypic plasticity; range expansion.
© 2020 British Ecological Society.