Coping with the cold: minimum temperatures and thermal tolerances dominate the ecology of mountain ants
van Rensburg, B.J.
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1. Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) are often cited as highly thermophilic and this has led to a range of studies investigating their thermal tolerances. It is unknown, however, if the geographic distribution of ant thermal tolerance conforms to the two major macropyhsiological rules that have been found in other taxa: Janzen’s and Brett’s rules. In addition, there is a paucity of data on how the lower thermal tolerances of ants are able to influence behaviour. 2. These two knowledge gaps were addressed here by sampling ants across a 1500m elevational gradient in southern Africa and estimating the upper (CTmax) and lower (CTmin) thermal tolerances of 31 and 28 species, respectively. Ant abundances and soil temperatures were also recorded across the gradient over 6 years. 3. It was found that the average CTmin of the ants declined with elevation along with environmental temperatures. It was also found that the correlation between abundance and local temperature depended on the ant species’ CTmin. The activity of species with a low CTmin was not constrained by temperature, whereas those with a high CTmin were limited by low temperatures. 4. For the first time, evidence is provided here that the thermal tolerances of ants are consistent with two major macrophysiological rules: Brett’s rule and Janzen’s rule. A mechanistic link between physiology, behaviour and the environment is also shown, which highlights that the ability of ants to deal with the cold may be a key, but often overlooked, factor allowing multiple ant species to succeed within an environment.