Ants can handle climate change just fine – even in Cleveland

From CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY

Species appears to evolve quickly enough to endure city temperatures

Study shows acorn ants rapidly adjust, suggesting the insects may be able to cope with other sources of warming, including climate change

Acorn ants evolve quickly to adjust to living in heat-trapping cities. The capability that may prove essential to enduring other sources of rising temperatures, such as climate change. CREDIT Ryan Martin

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.

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The Paper: https://academic.oup.com/biolinnean/article-abstract/doi/10.1093/biolinnean/blw047/3038290/Rapid-evolution-of-ant-thermal-tolerance-across-an?redirectedFrom=fulltext

Rapid evolution of ant thermal tolerance across an urban-rural temperature cline

Abstract

Rates of urbanization are accelerating worldwide. The increases in temperature associated with ‘urban heat island’ effects provide both an ecological imperative and a unique opportunity to explore the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that underlie organismal responses to rapid environmental change. We used the acorn ant, Temnothorax curvispinosus (Mayr 1866), to compare shifts in thermal tolerance of ants from rural and urban habitats throughout Cleveland, USA. Urban warming in the region has been ongoing for the past century which translates to 20 or fewer acorn ant generations. Using a common garden experiment, we found gains in the ability to withstand high temperatures and losses in the ability to withstand cool temperatures among ants in urban habitats. Owing to the greater magnitude of phenotypic change in lower compared with upper tolerances, tolerance breadth decreased in urban habitats. Mechanistically, these shifts in thermal tolerance under urbanization reflected both evolutionary change and phenotypic plasticity, as ants from urban areas exhibited higher thermal tolerances compared with ants from rural areas regardless of rearing temperature, and ants reared in the warmer temperature treatment exhibited higher tolerances than ants reared in the cooler temperature treatment. We also found evidence of evolved plasticity as the slope of the response to warmer and colder rearing environments differed significantly among rural and urban populations. While much of the ecological forecasting literature focuses on plastic responses to environmental change, our study provides evidence of rapid evolution of thermal tolerances, and suggests the importance of including evolutionary responses in forecasts of organismal responses to climatic change.
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70 thoughts on “Ants can handle climate change just fine – even in Cleveland

  1. But, but….. Don’t the ants know thar UHI’s are just a figment of imagination?

  2. Even humans can evolve relatively quickly. The first tall, lactose tolerant, white people arrived in Europe about 8500 years ago. Before that, Europeans were brown skinned. The white genes spread rapidly throughout the population. link

    • Interesting link. Like my own minuscule research of family roots, the Y-DNA haplogroups seem to pop up all over the place, in my case the Iberian group. Perhaps the ‘piebald’ found in deer and horses-etc. might show the diversity-root dna.

    • @ commieBob – March 8, 2017 at 4:07 am

      The first tall, lactose tolerant, white people arrived in Europe about 8500 years ago. Before that, Europeans were brown skinned. The white genes spread rapidly throughout the population

      Ah so, but my question is, ………. which came first, ….. the brown skinned hominoid or the white skinned hominoid?

  3. never found any climate except flooding to manage to knock any ants off.
    hell most of the poisons dont do it either;-(
    i used a tractor to dig into a colony in my yard,
    theyre not only doing fine but where i placed the removed dirt..they expanded a new colony into!
    so this winter they are going to be flooded out! will run a drainpipe right into their abode

      • Now THAT is scientific! That cast accomplishes several things: First, it eliminates a fire ant colony, always a desirable thing. Next, it makes what appears to be a complete three-dimensional picture of the nest, without hurting a single human–and it’s a beautiful art object as well as a most informative exhibit. Thanks!

  4. Memo to staff: attach the words “Climate Change” to all funding requests for prompt consideration. Meanwhile back at the ranch our Air Force lacks the money for training and maintenance.

  5. Plants and animals migrate to their best climate if left alone. People don’t, they expect everything to stay the way they grew up with it, regardless of what part of the world they grew up in.

  6. Chalk up the study of evolution as another field where the science isn’t settled. Speciation of birds and other animals has been observed within our lifetimes. The changes are always in the direction of an enhancement of adaptation to local conditions, instead of just random changes which produce merely viable, but useless diversity.
    It isn’t much of a reach to speculate that there is an unknown aspect of consciousness within species which observes a need for change and produces the necessary transformation which augments the ability of the species to meet the new challenge.

    • Changes are random. It’s just that the changes that don’t make the animal more fit to survive don’t get passed on.

      • MarkW: “Changes are random”

        Is that the first law of the Theory of Evolution? Or is “The Missing Link” the first law? And from the article: “Evolution is often thought of as a process that takes millennia”.

        Here are the laws within the settled science Theory of Evolution:

        1. Changes are random
        2. missing link
        3. process takes millennia

        Anything to reason with?

      • If changes are merely random, then where are the observations of viable, but meaningless random changes?
        There’s more to the story, morning glory.

      • Thomas Homer – March 8, 2017 at 6:48 am

        Or is “The Missing Link” the first law?

        Now Thomas Homer, please explain why you or anyone else would think, let alone believe, that “The Missing Link” is the first law of anything? Or even 2nd or 3rd law of anything.

        “DUH”, iffen a new species evolved as a result of ……. horizontal gene transfer(s), ….. then there is no “missing link” to be found that would confirm “descent with modification”.

      • Samuel C Coger says in response:
        ““DUH”, iffen a new species evolved as a result of ……. horizontal gene transfer(s), ….. then there is no “missing link” to be found that would confirm “descent with modification”.”

        So the Theory of Evolution allows for siblings of the same parents to be different species? If each were a product of varying “horizontal gene transfer(s)”, then this is a valid scenario within the theory.

      • MarkW-
        You didn’t really answer the question.

        You’ve stated that only random changes occur and only mutations which enhance the species environmental interaction, survive.

        My contention is that if changes are merely random, then it would be reasonable to find perfectly viable, yet meaningless (as far as enhancement to the species,) changes to known species.
        I asked for examples of such and you said that the examples are all around and I have to open my eyes to see them.

        You just played both sides of the ball.

      • Alan, I did answer your question. These perfectly viable random mutations are all around you, by the billions.

      • MarkW says: “Alan, I did answer your question. These perfectly viable random mutations are all around you, by the billions.”

        Except when they’re not. Some species do not ‘evolve’ for millions of years. “The 350-million-year-old coelacanth fish and the 300-million-year-old horsetail grass survive largely unchanged.”

        When a Theory allows for any circumstance it is a specious theory. In this case it is a specious speciation theory.

      • Thomas, if there’s no reason to evolve, animals won’t.
        If the animal is already adequately adapted to it’s environment and the environment doesn’t change, then the odds that all random mutations will not improve the survival chances of the individual and hence will not be passed on.

      • Thomas Homer – March 8, 2017 at 8:04 am

        So the Theory of Evolution allows for siblings of the … yada, yada, yada

        Homer, why did you intentionally IGNORE the question I asked about your claim of …… “The Missing Link” law of evolution”?

        Was that something you “thunked up” on your own …… or what?

      • @ Alan Robertson – March 8, 2017 at 7:12 am

        If changes are merely random, then where are the observations of viable, but meaningless random changes?

        Alan R, take a look-see at yourself in your bathroom mirror and you will be observing the product of a prime example of random mutations “of viable, but meaningless random changes”. But iffen you want to actually observe those “viable, but meaningless random changes” you will have to look at your DNA and figure out what portion of it is said “meaningless random changes”, more often referred to as “junk DNA”.

        vi·a·ble [adjective] – (of a plant, animal, or cell) capable of surviving or living successfully, especially under particular environmental conditions.

      • @ MarkW – March 8, 2017 at 2:13 pm

        and hence will not be passed on.

        MarkW, I don’t blame you for getting irritated because of their silly questioning …. but be careful about such comments as noted above.

        Most random mutations, iffen they are part of the DNA of the female’s “egg” or the male’s ”sperm”, will be passed on to the offspring. If the aforesaid mutation was detrimental to the survival of the individual, then there is still the “iffy” chance the individual could survive long enough to “procreate”, and if so, then the offspring would inherit that “detrimental” trait.

        And don’t forget, random mutations can occur when the “egg” or ”sperm” is being reproduced and that mutation will not be part of the parent’s DNA but will be inherited by the offspring iffen procreation occurs via the “egg” or ”sperm” containing said mutation.

      • Samuel C Cogar says:
        “Homer, why did you intentionally IGNORE the question I asked about your claim of …… “The Missing Link” law of evolution”?

        Was that something you “thunked up” on your own …… or what?”
        …………………………………………………………………………………………
        Thank you for your response Samuel. Do you really think I came up with “The Missing Link” on my own? How is it that you know exactly what it refers to? It’s because it has been a cornerstone of the vacuous Theory of Evolution in terms of speciation. I promoted it to be the second Law of the Theory of Evolution in an effort to show how ridiculous it is to have a Theory that has no laws. I notice that you didn’t correct me and point to any actual law of speciation. Your theory allows for siblings of the same parents to be different species. Your theory contains gross contradictions. That’s a vacuous theory, it has no value, there is nothing to reason with. How long do you need to arrive at a law within your theory? It’s been over 150 years, when can we proclaim this theory dead and find the truth?

      • Thomas Homer – March 9, 2017 at 6:16 am

        Thank you for your response Samuel. Do you really think I came up with “The Missing Link” on my own?

        “YES”, ….. your claim that it is …… “a law of evolution”, ….. is asinine and sill conjecture.

        How is it that you know exactly what it refers to?

        Because I am intelligent, …. as well as being educated in the Biological Sciences.

        It’s because it has been a cornerstone of the vacuous Theory of Evolution in terms of speciation.

        OH MY MY, …….. after reading the above comment ….. I now see where you are coming from, to wit:

        vac·u·ous – having or showing a lack of thought or intelligence; mindless.

        spe·ci·a·tion – the formation of new and distinct species in the course of evolution.

        Have a great year.

    • Alan,
      You are exactly right about the direction of the evolutionary changes, but you don’t need to speculate about some secret sauce that drives it.

      The Constructal Law of physics states that to live, all energetic flow systems must evolve to maximize the flow of energy through them (or efficiency). It covers everything from the formation of the stars and planets to biological, human and technical evolutionary systems. While the origin of life is still a mystery (we don’t have a Turing proof of computability for biology), every living system at its most fundamental core consists of “knowledge actors” which take information from the environment and integrate it as knowledge in order to take action to harness energy and increase the energy available to the actor (and its larger system).

      A biological system like a bird consists of billions of such actors, all pulling in the same direction. The bird is really the mutual expression of all these biological, neuronal, behavioral and social “knowledge actors” each doing their thing to increase energy flow in their domain. There is nothing at all “random” about evolution. Using the Constructal Law, it can not only be understood, but predicted.

      http://constructal.org
      http://constructalinfonomics.org

      • marko- you and i are engaged in a discussion of semantics, delineating known and unknown.

    • Changes within an animal species (or a set of plant cultivars) is what I think is termed micro-evolution; it can even be induced via selective breeding (as I do when I cross one daylily with another that I have chosen). Macro-evolution–change from one species to a new one with which the first can’t interbreed–is a long way from being proven, whether missing links are posited or not. The mechanism for one species giving rise to an entirely new one is, I understand, still not known. As for a human being engineering the emergence of a brand-new species of animal or plant, I don’t expect to see it any time soon–and I want to be far away if it occurs!

  7. Authors of these studies always sound surprised that anything can adapt to global warming.

    It’s obvious that can without the studies. Why? Because they’re here, and since global climate change is older than all species on earth, it means they have endured global climate change over, and over, and over, and….

  8. Why does the main paper or the article not contain the obvious reference to epigenetics?

  9. Humans have managed to adapt to climate change in Cleveland too . Same , I’m sure with pigeons and squirrels .

    What would be news is a species which hadn’t adapted to a change in the mean a small portion of the annual variation .

  10. I’m sorry, but I have to say this…
    The conclusion of this study is that Lacy Chick was Hot in Cleveland.
    I will do penance.

  11. What differences were documented between the two “different” populations of ants? Article mentions none. It is good that UHI is now safe to mention in such publications.

  12. Ants are incredibly resilient and well organized, if the state of my back yard is any indication.

  13. Troe, here’s your answer, tell your local air force to say they need more money to study how climate change is altering wing performance characteristics at altitude. Should get billions.
    Meanwhile back on Mars the second paragraph about acorn ants taking no more than 100 years to adjust to urban life seems about as unremarkable as foxes learning to scavenge in city dustbins. Presumably there were not many cars about when ants started “to evolve” themselves or are the researchers claiming the ant colonies knew in advance – now that would be news.

  14. This is good news, but hardly reassuring.
    Three decades of Global Warming have taken a horrible toll on ant populations worldwide. Species are on the decline everywhere, and whole regions of the world are vulnerable to complete ant extermination.
    Now, to follow on, the ants are faced with Climate Change. It is this One-Two punch of Global Warming followed by Climate Change which is proving devastating to defenseless species all over the world. Unfortunately, it is the ants which are getting hit hardest of all.
    As we all know, most ant species are communal, living in large colonies, just the same as humans. This makes them a Sentinel Species for humans. Whatever happens to ants will surely happen next to humans. This makes it a national and international imperative that we do everything we can to save the ants. Through concerted international effort, Global Warming was finally defeated. Now, we must all rise to the challenge and defeat Climate Change in the same way. We must Save The Ants.
    It will be hard, it will be expensive, it will require sacrifice, but it must be done.
    For the good of mankind and all humanity, we must Save The Ants.

    • Yes, quite! I hope that the Pope will announce support for ants being more important than people.
      (obligatory sarc tag)

    • TonyL
      Sorry, I missed the “Send Billion$” sentence completely.
      I caught the ‘it will be expensive’ bit, but that looks like you will use your own money, ‘sacrifice’ and all that.

      And that can’t be right in the church of climate change.

      And Pop P – ants are believers, too, so only right that His Holiness the Pope rates them highly.

      Auto
      Mods – please take with a piled serving spoon of salt!

  15. If you think ants are adaptable, look at bears. They will eat anything. Even environmentalists, although environmentalists tend to be bony and not very nourishing.

    • One advantage of eating environmentalist is they are not to bright and don’t run until it to late. They are to busy thinking of how to cope with the changing of the macro environment to notice the bear bearing down on them in the micro environment (not pun intended!)

  16. Yeah, sure, ants can adapt and evolve to higher temperatures in Cleveland, but can they survive rising water levels in Lake Erie? Doubtful. Needs a study. Send money.

  17. Gosh, sure hoping they weren’t worried about the ants. Little suckers are seriously tough. I’ve tried to kill them in a microwave approaching 100C to no avail. It is believed that the current biomass of ants on the planet is larger than that of humans.

  18. Gymnosperm – what are you doing to all those poor little ants? Or were you just microwaving them for a snack on toast? If the latter can you make any suggestion for recipies and tell us if red or black ants taste better coated on peanut butter.

  19. What about the ants in rural areas where humans are leaving because they can no longer make a living there? The exodus of humans must have some impact on them.

  20. Two things to keep in mind:

    Ten percent of all animal biomass on the planet is ants.

    Insects are virtually immune to mass extinctions

  21. 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

    Predicted? Shurely shome mishtake.

    Modelled.

  22. Anyone who has tried to eradicate ants in their yard knows that they are a tough lot and do not give up easily and go away. All Insects including ants and cockroaches in particular are immune to extinctions

  23. My ants can handle second hand smoke, also mixtures of melted sugar, honey and borax.
    Chemical warfare just seems to get them drunk.
    Might be time to nuke them :)

    • Nuke them won’t work, to many underground to begin with, they started to build bomb shelters millennial before we built the bomb, smart bastards their computer program must of have predicted it million of years before we developed and we were able to develop computers.

  24. “by comparing the physiologies of urban versus rural ants”

    Wow, who knew there where urban and rural ants…..

    Do the rural ants drive 4×4 pickups with knobby tires and gun racks, while the urban ants wear “dew rags”….

    Do “urban ants” sport tattoos ???

    Inquiring minds want to know (or probably not….)….

    KevinK

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