Basal resistance enhances warming tolerance of alien over indigenous species across latitude

Authors: Charlene Janion-Scheepers, Laura Phillips, Carla M Sgrò, Grant A Duffy, Rebecca Hallas, and Steven L Chown

Published in: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, volume 115, issue 1


Soil systems are being increasingly exposed to the interactive effects of biological invasions and climate change, with rising temperatures expected to benefit alien over indigenous species.

We assessed this expectation for an important soil-dwelling group, the springtails, by determining whether alien species show broader thermal tolerance limits and greater tolerance to climate warming than their indigenous counterparts.

We found that, from the tropics to the sub-Antarctic, alien species have the broadest thermal tolerances and greatest tolerance to environmental warming. Both groups of species show little phenotypic plasticity or potential for evolutionary change in tolerance to high temperature.

These trait differences between alien and indigenous species suggest that biological invasions will exacerbate the impacts of climate change on soil systems, with profound implications for terrestrial ecosystem functioning.


Janion-Scheepers C, Phillips L, Sgrò CM, Duffy GA, Hallas R, Chown SL (2018) Basal resistance enhances warming tolerance of alien over indigenous species across latitude. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PDF DOI

Comparative studies of critical physiological limits and vulnerability to environmental extremes in small ectotherms: How much environmental control is needed?

Authors: Ary A Hoffmann and Carla M Sgrò

Published in: Integrative Zoology, volume 13, issue 4 (July 2018)


Researchers and practitioners are increasingly using comparative assessments of critical thermal and physiological limits to assess the relative vulnerability of ectothermic species to extreme thermal and aridity conditions occurring under climate change.

In most assessments of vulnerability, critical limits are compared across taxa exposed to different environmental and developmental conditions. However, many aspects of vulnerability should ideally be compared when species are exposed to the same environmental conditions, allowing a partitioning of sources of variation such as used in quantitative genetics.

This is particularly important when assessing the importance of different types of plasticity to critical limits, using phylogenetic analyses to test for evolutionary constraints, isolating genetic variants that contribute to limits, characterizing evolutionary interactions among traits limiting adaptive responses, and when assessing the role of cross generation effects. However, vulnerability assessments based on critical thermal/physiological limits also need to take place within a context that is relevant to field conditions, which is not easily provided under controlled environmental conditions where behavior, microhabitat, stress exposure rates and other factors will differ from field conditions.

There are ways of reconciling these requirements, such as by taking organisms from controlled environments and then testing their performance under field conditions (or vice versa).

While comparisons under controlled environments are challenging for many taxa, assessments of critical thermal limits and vulnerability will always be incomplete unless environmental effects within and across generations are considered, and where the ecological relevance of assays measuring critical limits can be established.


Hoffmann AA, Sgrò CM (2018) Comparative studies of critical physiological limits and vulnerability to environmental extremes in small ectotherms: How much environmental control is needed? Integrative Zoology PDF DOI

Experimental support that natural selection has shaped the latitudinal distribution of mitochondrial haplotypes in in Australian Drosophila melanogaster

Authors: M Florencia Camus, Jonci N Wolff, Carla M Sgrò, and Damian K Dowling

Published in: Molecular Biology and Evolution, volume 34, issue 10 (October 2017)


Cellular metabolism is regulated by enzyme complexes within the mitochondrion, the function of which are sensitive to the prevailing temperature. Such thermal sensitivity, coupled with the observation that population frequencies of mitochondrial haplotypes tend to associate with latitude, altitude, or climatic regions across species distributions, led to the hypothesis that thermal selection has played a role in shaping standing variation in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence.

This hypothesis, however, remains controversial, and requires evidence that the distribution of haplotypes observed in nature corresponds with the capacity of these haplotypes to confer differences in thermal tolerance. Specifically, haplotypes predominating in tropical climates are predicted to encode increased tolerance to heat stress, but decreased tolerance to cold stress.

We present direct evidence for these predictions, using mtDNA haplotypes sampled from the Australian distribution of Drosophila melanogaster. We show that the ability of flies to tolerate extreme thermal challenges is affected by sequence variation across mtDNA haplotypes, and that the thermal performance associated with each haplotype corresponds with its latitudinal prevalence.

The haplotype that predominates at low (subtropical) latitudes confers greater resilience to heat stress, but lower resilience to cold stress, than haplotypes predominating at higher (temperate) latitudes.

We explore molecular mechanisms that might underlie these responses, presenting evidence that the effects are in part regulated by SNPs that do not change the protein sequence. Our findings suggest that standing variation in the mitochondrial genome can be shaped by thermal selection, and could therefore contribute to evolutionary adaptation under climatic stress.


Camus MF, Wolff JN, Sgrò CM, Dowling DK (2017) Experimental support that natural selection has shaped the latitudinal distribution of mitochondrial haplotypes in Australian Drosophila melanogaster, Molecular Biology and Evolution PDF DOI

How important is thermal history? Evidence for lasting effects of developmental temperature on upper thermal limits in Drosophila melanogaster

Authors: Vanessa Kellermann, Belinda van Heerwaarden, and Carla M Sgrò

Published in: Proceedings of the Royal Society B, volume 284, issue 1855 (May 2017)


A common practice in thermal biology is to take individuals directly from the field and estimate a range of thermal traits. These estimates are then used in studies aiming to understand broad scale distributional patterns, understanding and predicting the evolution of phenotypic plasticity, and generating predictions for climate change risk. However, the use of field-caught individuals in such studies ignores the fact that many traits are phenotypically plastic and will be influenced by the thermal history of the focal individuals.

The current study aims to determine the extent to which estimates of upper thermal limits (CTmax), a frequently used measure for climate change risk, are sensitive to developmental and adult acclimation temperatures and whether these two forms of plasticity are reversible.

Examining a temperate and tropical population of Drosophila melanogaster we show that developmental acclimation has a larger and more lasting effect on CTmax than adult acclimation. We also find evidence for an interaction between developmental and adult acclimation, particularly when flies are acclimated for a longer period, and that these effects can be population specific.

These results suggest that thermal history can have lasting effects on estimates of CTmax. In addition, we provide evidence that developmental and/or adult acclimation are unlikely to contribute to substantial shifts in CTmax and that acclimation capacity may be constrained at higher temperatures.


Kellermann V, van Heerwaarden B, Sgrò CM (2017) How important is thermal history? Evidence for lasting effects of developmental temperature on upper thermal limits in Drosophila melanogaster. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, PDF DOI

Revisiting adaptive potential, population size, and conservation

Authors: Ary A Hoffmann, Carla M Sgrò, and Torsten N Kristensen

Published in: Trends in Ecology and Evolution, volume 32, issue 7 (July 2017)


Additive genetic variance (VA) reflects the potential for evolutionary shifts and can be low for some traits or populations.

High VA is critical for the conservation of threatened species under selection to facilitate adaptation.

Theory predicts tight associations between population size and VA, but data from some experimental models, and managed and natural populations do not always support this prediction. However, VA comparisons often have low statistical power, are undertaken in highly controlled environments distinct from natural habitats, and focus on traits with limited ecological relevance. Moreover, investigations of VA typically fail to consider rare alleles, genetic load, or linkage disequilibrium, resulting in deleterious effects associated with favored alleles in small populations.

Large population size remains essential for ensuring adaptation.


Hoffmann AA, Sgrò CM, Kristensen TN (2017) Revisiting adaptive potential, population size, and conservation, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, PDF DOI

Aligning science and policy to achieve evolutionarily enlightened conservation

Authors: Carly N Cook and Carla M Sgrò

Published in: Conservation Biology (early view)


There is increasing recognition among conservation scientists that long-term conservation outcomes could be improved through better integration of evolutionary theory into management practices. Despite concerns that the importance of key concepts emerging from evolutionary theory (i.e., evolutionary principles and processes) are not being recognized by managers, there has been little effort to determine the level of integration of evolutionary theory into conservation policy and practice.

We assessed conservation policy at 3 scales (international, national, and provincial) on 3 continents to quantify the degree to which key evolutionary concepts, such as genetic diversity and gene flow, are being incorporated into conservation practice. We also evaluated the availability of clear guidance within the applied evolutionary biology literature as to how managers can change their management practices to achieve better conservation outcomes.

Despite widespread recognition of the importance of maintaining genetic diversity, conservation policies provide little guidance about how this can be achieved in practice and other relevant evolutionary concepts, such as inbreeding depression, are mentioned rarely. In some cases the poor integration of evolutionary concepts into management reflects a lack of decision-support tools in the literature. Where these tools are available, such as risk-assessment frameworks, they are not being adopted by conservation policy makers, suggesting that the availability of a strong evidence base is not the only barrier to evolutionarily enlightened management.

We believe there is a clear need for more engagement by evolutionary biologists with policy makers to develop practical guidelines that will help managers make changes to conservation practice. There is also an urgent need for more research to better understand the barriers to and opportunities for incorporating evolutionary theory into conservation practice.


Cook CN, Sgrò CM (2017) Aligning science and policy to achieve evolutionarily enlightened conservation. Conservation Biology, PDF DOI

Sex-biased transcriptome divergence along a latitudinal gradient

Authors: Scott L Allen, Russell Bonduriansky, Carla M Sgrò, and Stephen F. Chenoweth

Published in: Molecular Ecology, volume 26, issue 5 (March 2017)


Sex-dependent gene expression is likely an important genomic mechanism that allows sex-specific adaptation to environmental changes.

Among Drosophila species, sex-biased genes display remarkably consistent evolutionary patterns; male-biased genes evolve faster than unbiased genes in both coding sequence and expression level, suggesting sex differences in selection through time. However, comparatively little is known of the evolutionary process shaping sex-biased expression within species. Latitudinal clines offer an opportunity to examine how changes in key ecological parameters also influence sex-specific selection and the evolution of sex-biased gene expression.

We assayed male and female gene expression in Drosophila serrata along a latitudinal gradient in eastern Australia spanning most of its endemic distribution. Analysis of 11,631 genes across eight populations revealed strong sex differences in the frequency, mode and strength of divergence. Divergence was far stronger in males than females and while latitudinal clines were evident in both sexes, male divergence was often population specific, suggesting responses to localized selection pressures that do not covary predictably with latitude.

While divergence was enriched for male-biased genes, there was no overrepresentation of X-linked genes in males. By contrast, X-linked divergence was elevated in females, especially for female-biased genes. Many genes that diverged in D. serrata have homologs also showing latitudinal divergence in Drosophila simulans and Drosophila melanogaster on other continents, likely indicating parallel adaptation in these distantly related species.

Our results suggest that sex differences in selection play an important role in shaping the evolution of gene expression over macro- and micro-ecological spatial scales.


Allen SL, Bonduriansky R, Sgro CM and Chenoweth SF (2017) Sex-biased transcriptome divergence along a latitudinal gradient. Molecular Ecology, PDF DOI