Nav: Home

Species appears to evolve quickly enough to endure city temperatures

March 07, 2017

CLEVELAND--The speed at which a tiny ant evolves to cope to its warming city environment suggests that some species may evolve quickly enough to survive, or even thrive, in the warmer temperatures found within cities, according to a new study by researchers at Case Western Reserve University.

Evolution is often thought of as a process that takes millennia, but urban acorn ants collected in Cleveland have taken no more than 100 years to adjust to their heat-trapping home of asphalt and concrete steeped with waste heat from cars and buildings--although their tolerance to cold was reduced.

The researchers' findings are published online in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.

"Ants are an indicator species, and by comparing the physiologies of urban versus rural ants, we can get an idea of whether ants and other cold-blooded animals will be able to cope with the temperature changes associated with urbanization and other sources of warming like global climate change," said Sarah Diamond, assistant professor of biology at Case Western Reserve and the study's lead author.

Diamond worked with Ryan Martin, assistant professor of biology, research associates Lacy Chick and Stephanie Strickler, and PhD student Abe Perez.

Cities tend to be a couple of degrees warmer than surrounding rural areas. To determine whether animals evolve or simply adjust to added warmth, the research team collected and compared acorn ants from the city and nearby rural land.

The acorn ant (Temnothorax curvispinosus) is widespread and important for decomposing organic material in urban and rural environments across the United States. This species of ant is smaller than a cookie crumb; an entire colony of 250 can fit in a single acorn.

The researchers collected colonies from within the city of Cleveland and as far as 28 miles east from the Holden Arboretum in suburban Kirtland, Ohio, to study in Diamond's lab.

To isolate evolutionary change from short-term acclimation, groups of rural and city ants were raised in warmer city temperatures for about 10 weeks. Other groups from both locations were raised in cooler rural temperatures for 10 weeks.

Tests of thermal tolerance showed all the ants acclimated.

"They're very plastic," Martin said. "But ants collected from city habitats retained their higher heat tolerance and loss of cold tolerance compared to rural ants, regardless of whether they were born and reared under warm or cool temperatures."

Martin and Diamond believe the Cleveland ants evolved as the city became and remained highly urban during the last 100 years. Because egg-laying queen ants live from five to 15 years, the evolution to heat tolerance likely took no more than 20 generations, the researchers estimated.

With temperatures predicted to rise at least a couple of degrees Celsius over the next century, "Global data suggests that the acclimation response won't be enough to respond to climate change, but some species, like the acorn ants, may evolve quickly enough," Diamond said.

The researchers suggest this experiment can be repeated with other species in cities around the world.

Whether other species can adapt as rapidly to cities and other sources of temperature change is unknown but remains an important question for researchers trying to predict what future biological communities will look like and how they will function, Diamond and Martin said.
-end-


Case Western Reserve University

Related Climate Change Articles:

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.
Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.
Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.
Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.
A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.
Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.