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Thermal Tolerance in Widespread and Tropical Drosophila Species: Does Phenotypic Plasticity Increase with Latitude?

The distribution of insects can often be related to variation in their response to thermal extremes, which in turn may reflect differences in plastic responses or innate variation in resistance. Species with widespread distributions are expected to have evolved higher levels of plasticity than those from restricted tropical areas. This study compares adult thermal limits across five widespread species and five restricted tropical species of Drosophila from eastern Australia and investigates how these limits are affected by developmental acclimation and hardening after controlling for environmental variation and phylogeny. Irrespective of acclimation, cold resistance was higher in the widespread species. Developmental cold acclimation simulating temperate conditions extended cold limits by 2°–4°C, whereas developmental heat acclimation under simulated tropical conditions increased upper thermal limits by <1°C. The response to adult heat-hardening was weak, whereas widespread species tended to have a larger cold-hardening response that increased cold tolerance by 2°–5°C. These patterns persisted after phylogenetic correction and when flies were reared under high and low constant temperatures. The results do not support the hypothesis that widely distributed species have larger phenotypic plasticity for thermal tolerance limits, and Drosophila species distributions are therefore more closely linked to differences in innate thermal tolerance limits.