The thermal breadth of temperate and tropical freshwater insects supports the climate variability hypothesis

Beatrice S. Dewenter, Alisha A. Shah, Jane Hughes, N. Le Roy Poff, Ross Thompson, Ben J. Kefford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Downloads (Pure)


Climate change involves increases in mean temperature and changes in temperature variability at multiple temporal scales but research rarely considers these temporal scales. The climate variability hypothesis (CVH) provides a conceptual framework for exploring the potential effects of annual scale thermal variability across climatic zones. The CVH predicts ectotherms in temperate regions tolerate a wider range of temperatures than those in tropical regions in response to greater annual variability in temperate regions. However, various other aspects of thermal regimes (e.g. diel variability), organisms' size and taxonomic identity are also hypothesised to influence thermal tolerance. Indeed, high temperatures in the tropics have been proposed as constraining organisms' ability to tolerate a wide range of temperatures, implying that high annual maximum temperatures would be associated with tolerating a narrow range of temperatures. We measured thermal regimes and critical thermal limits (CTmax and CTmin) of freshwater insects in the orders Ephemeroptera (mayflies), Plecoptera (stoneflies) and Trichoptera (caddisflies) along elevation gradients in streams in temperate and tropical regions of eastern Australia and tested the CVH by determining which variables were most correlated with thermal breadth (Tbr = CTmax − CTmin). Consistent with the CVH, Tbr tended to increase with increasing annual temperature range. Tbr also increased with body size and Tbr was generally wider in Plecoptera than in Ephemeroptera or Trichoptera. We also find some support for a related hypothesis, the climate extreme hypothesis (CEH), particularly for predicting upper thermal limits. We found no evidence that higher annual maximum temperature constrained individuals' abilities to tolerate a wide range of temperatures. The support for the CVH we document suggests that temperate organisms may be able to tolerate wider ranges of temperatures than tropical organisms. There is an urgent need to investigate other aspects of thermal regimes, such as diel temperature cycling and minimum temperature.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere10937
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


Dive into the research topics of 'The thermal breadth of temperate and tropical freshwater insects supports the climate variability hypothesis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this