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Keywords:

  • Brown’s hypothesis;
  • climate change;
  • diving beetle;
  • endemic;
  • environmental variability hypothesis;
  • geographical range;
  • latitude;
  • rarity;
  • thermal tolerance;
  • widespread species

Abstract

Aim  Within clades, most taxa are rare, whilst few are common, a general pattern for which the causes remain poorly understood. Here we investigate the relationship between thermal performance (tolerance and acclimation ability) and the size of a species’ geographical range for an assemblage of four ecologically similar European diving beetles (the Agabus brunneus group) to examine whether thermal physiology relates to latitudinal range extent, and whether Brown’s hypothesis and the environmental variability hypothesis apply to these taxa.

Location  Europe.

Methods  In order to determine the species tolerances to either low or high temperatures we measured the lethal thermal limits of adults, previously acclimated at one of two temperatures, by means of thermal ramping experiments (± 1°C min−1). These measures of upper and lower thermal tolerances (UTT and LTT respectively) were then used to estimate each species’ thermal tolerance range, as total thermal tolerance polygons and marginal UTT and LTT thermal polygons.

Results  Overall, widespread species have higher UTTs and lower LTTs than restricted ones. Mean upper lethal limits of the Agabus brunneus group (43 to 46°C), are similar to those of insects living at similar latitudes, whilst mean lower lethal limits (−6 to −9°C) are relatively high, suggesting that this group is not particularly cold-hardy compared with other mid-temperate-latitude insects. Widespread species possess the largest thermal tolerance ranges and have a relatively symmetrical tolerance to both high and low temperatures, when compared with range-restricted relatives. Over the temperature range employed, adults did not acclimate to either high or low temperatures, contrasting with many insect groups, and suggesting that physiological plasticity has a limited role in shaping distribution.

Main conclusions  Absolute thermal niche appears to be a good predictor of latitudinal range, supporting both Brown’s hypothesis and the environmental variability hypothesis. Restricted-range species may be more susceptible to the direct effect of climate change than widespread species, notwithstanding the possibility that even ‘thermally-hardy’, widespread species may be influenced by the indirect effects of climate change such as reduction in habitat availability in Mediterranean areas.