Common garden experiments reveal uncommon responses across temperatures, locations, and species of ants



Shannon L. Pelini, Department of Biological Sciences, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio 43403, USA. Tel: +(419) 372-8760; Fax: +(419) 372-2024; E-mail:


Population changes and shifts in geographic range boundaries induced by climate change have been documented for many insect species. On the basis of such studies, ecological forecasting models predict that, in the absence of dispersal and resource barriers, many species will exhibit large shifts in abundance and geographic range in response to warming. However, species are composed of individual populations, which may be subject to different selection pressures and therefore may be differentially responsive to environmental change. Asystematic responses across populations and species to warming will alter ecological communities differently across space. Common garden experiments can provide a more mechanistic understanding of the causes of compositional and spatial variation in responses to warming. Such experiments are useful for determining if geographically separated populations and co-occurring species respond differently to warming, and they provide the opportunity to compare effects of warming on fitness (survivorship and reproduction). We exposed colonies of two common ant species in the eastern United States, Aphaenogaster rudis and Temnothorax curvispinosus, collected along a latitudinal gradient from Massachusetts to North Carolina, to growth chamber treatments that simulated current and projected temperatures in central Massachusetts and central North Carolina within the next century. Regardless of source location, colonies of A. rudis, a keystone seed disperser, experienced high mortality and low brood production in the warmest temperature treatment. Colonies of T. curvispinosus from cooler locations experienced increased mortality in the warmest rearing temperatures, but colonies from the warmest locales did not. Our results suggest that populations of some common species may exhibit uniform declines in response to warming across their geographic ranges, whereas other species will respond differently to warming in different parts of their geographic ranges. Our results suggest that differential responses of populations and species must be incorporated into projections of range shifts in a changing climate.