In recent years, ecologists have begun to study the effects of urbanization on species diversity. While urban areas generally suffer decreased biodiversity, some species, termed “urban exploiters”, not only live in the city but depend on urban resources to thrive. It is hypothesized that urban exploiters may succeed in part due to phenotypic plasticity, in which organisms rapidly adjust their physiology or behavior to adapt to novel environmental contexts. In the city, it may be adaptive to display thermal plasticity, as the urban heat island effect caused by concrete and asphalt infrastructure prevents cooling at night. In this study, we observed the decorated cricket Gryllodes sigillatus, an invasive urban exploiter found in metropolitan Phoenix, in two separate experiments. We hypothesized that heat tolerance and activity are both plastic traits in this species. In Experiment 1, we predicted that knock-down time, a measure of heat tolerance, would be negatively affected by acclimation to a laboratory environment. Our results suggest that heat tolerance is affected by recent thermal regimes and that laboratory acclimation decreases knock-down time. In Experiment 2, we predicted that activity would increase with temperature until a point of extreme heat, at which point activity would decline. Statistical analysis for the second experiment reveals that activity decreases at 33°C, a natural urban extreme. This suggests either that 33°C is a thermal limit to physiology or that G. sigillatus is able to alter its behavior to exploit local thermal heterogeneity.
- Handling the Heat: Plasticity of an Arthropod Pest in Response to the Urban Heat Island
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