Increased duration of extreme thermal events negatively affects cold acclimation ability in a high-latitude, freshwater ectotherm (Ischnura elegans; Odonata: Coenagrionidae)

Lesley A. Smith, Lesley T. Lancaster

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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Instances of heat waves and cold snaps are becoming more frequent and of increasing duration worldwide. It is well established that short exposure to high or low-temperatures, such as during extreme weather events, often results in adaptive (acclimation/hardening) or maladaptive plastic changes in tolerance of organisms to subsequent thermal stressors. However, little information is available about how the duration of a prior stressful thermal event mediates future organismal thermal responses. Understanding durational effects of thermal conditioning can help predict ectothermic survival in response to novel extreme weather patterns.
We assessed the effect of stressful temperature duration on tolerance to subsequent cold exposure in a widespread freshwater invertebrate species in Britain. Following a week-long acclimation period at 15°C, wild-caught blue-tailed damselfl y Ischnura elegans larvae were held at stressful thermal extreme (2°C or 30°C) temperatures for varying durations designed to mimic a range
of extreme to plausible durations of heat waves or cold snaps in the wild (30 min, 2 h, or 24 h). After a period of re-equilibration to ambient temperatures (15°C), we then experimentally assessed CTmin, the temperature which renders an individual unresponsive, as an index of cold tolerance.
Prior exposure to 2°C, simulating a cold snap, improved future cold tolerance, but only when individuals experienced very brief prior exposures to these conditions (30 min up to 2 h), and this benefit was lost following 24 h prior exposure. Prior exposure to 30°C, simulating a heat wave, consistently worsened the subsequent cold tolerance of individuals, with the detrimental effect of
prior heat exposure increasing linearly as a function of duration.
The research indicates that cold snaps can provide beneficial hardening effects against future cold exposures, but only when these (priming) extreme weather events are of very short duration (here, 30 min or 2 h). Longer durations of exposure to either extreme heat or cold weather events can reduce the ability of individuals to benefi cially react to subsequent cold stresses, and may have deleterious effects on future thermal tolerance. The results suggest that increasing durations of extreme temperature events will reduce cold hardening ability of freshwater invertebrates, and that the duration of extreme weather events, or durational changes in freshwater thermal regimes resulting from changes in snowmelt dynamics, is an important parameter to consider when
studying organismal responses to climate change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-100
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Journal of Entomology
Early online date17 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. We wish to thank the owners of the Midmar Stillwater Fishery for permission to sample larvae from their trout ponds. Thanks also to S. Areshi and R. Fitt for assistance in the field. This project was funded by the University of Aberdeen School of Biological Sciences, as part of their Ecology
and Conservation MSc programme thesis project budget.


  • Odonata
  • Coenagrionidae
  • Ischnura elegans
  • damselflies
  • climate change
  • thermal niche variability
  • thermal tolerance
  • acclimation
  • Damselfl ies
  • Thermal tolerance
  • Acclimation
  • Climate change
  • Thermal niche variability


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