Global warming and contamination represent two major threats to biodiversity that have the potential to interact synergistically. There is the potential for gradual local thermal adaptation and dispersal to higher latitudes to mitigate the susceptibility of organisms to contaminants and global warming at high latitudes. Here, we applied a space-for-time substitution approach to study the thermal dependence of the susceptibility of Ischnura elegans damselfly larvae to zinc in a common garden warming experiment (20 and 24 °C) with replicated populations from three latitudes spanning >1500 km in Europe. We observed a striking latitude-specific effect of temperature on the zinc-induced mortality pattern; local thermal adaptation along the latitudinal gradient made Swedish, but not French, damselfly larvae more susceptible to zinc at 24 °C. Latitude- and temperature-specific differences in zinc susceptibility may be related to the amount of energy available to defend against and repair damage since Swedish larvae showed a much stronger zinc-induced reduction of food intake at 24 °C. The pattern of local thermal adaptation indicates that the predicted temperature increase of 4 °C by 2100 will strongly magnify the impact of a contaminant such as zinc at higher latitudes unless there is thermal evolution and/or migration of lower latitude genotypes. Our results underscore the critical importance of studying the susceptibility to contaminants under realistic warming scenarios taking into account local thermal adaptation across natural temperature gradients.
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