Thermal limits in the face of infectious disease: How important are pathogens?

Authors: Tobias E Hector, Carla M Sgrò, and Matthew D Hall

Published in: Global Change Biology


The frequency and severity of both extreme thermal events and disease outbreaks are predicted to continue to shift as a consequence of global change. As a result, species persistence will likely be increasingly dependent on the interaction between thermal stress and pathogen exposure.

Missing from the intersection between studies of infectious disease and thermal ecology, however, is the capacity for pathogen exposure to directly disrupt a host’s ability to cope with thermal stress. Common sources of variation in host thermal performance, which are likely to interact with infection, are also often unaccounted for when assessing either the vulnerability of species or the potential for disease spread during extreme thermal events.

Here, we describe how infection can directly alter host thermal limits, to a degree that exceeds the level of variation commonly seen across species large geographic distributions and that equals the detrimental impact of other ecologically relevant stressors. We then discuss various sources of heterogeneity within and between populations that are likely to be important in mediating the impact that infection has on variation in host thermal limits.

In doing so we highlight how infection is a widespread and important source of variation in host thermal performance, which will have implications for both the persistence and vulnerability of species and the dynamics and transmission of disease in a more thermally extreme world.


Hector TE, Sgrò CM, Hall MD (2021) Thermal limits in the face of infectious disease: How important are pathogens? Global Change Biology PDF DOI