Increases in the evolutionary potential of upper thermal limits under warmer temperatures in two rainforest Drosophila species

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Tropical and subtropical species represent the majority of biodiversity. These species are predicted to lack the capacity to evolve higher thermal limits in response to selection imposed by climatic change. However, these assessments have relied on indirect estimates of adaptive capacity, using conditions that do not reflect environmental changes projected under climate change. Using a paternal half-sib full-sib breeding design, we estimated the additive genetic variance and narrow-sense heritability for adult upper thermal limits in two rainforest-restricted species of Drosophila reared under two thermal regimes, reflecting increases in seasonal temperature projected for the Wet Tropics of Australia and under standard laboratory conditions (constant 25°C). Estimates of additive genetic variation and narrow-sense heritability for adult heat tolerance were significantly different from zero in both species under projected summer, but not winter or constant, thermal regimes. In contrast, significant broad-sense genetic variation was apparent in all thermal regimes for egg-to-adult viability. Environment-dependent changes in the expression of genetic variation for adult upper thermal limits suggest that predicting adaptive responses to climate change will be difficult. Estimating adaptive capacity under conditions that do not reflect future environmental conditions may provide limited insight into evolutionary responses to climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)456-464
Number of pages9
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016


  • Adaptive potential
  • Genetic variation
  • Heritability
  • Thermotolerance
  • Upper thermal limits

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