Thermal preference and performance in a sub-Antarctic caterpillar: A test of the coadaptation hypothesis and its alternatives

Tanya M. Haupt, Brent J. Sinclair, Steven L. Chown

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4 Citations (Scopus)


Physiological ecologists have long assumed that thermoregulatory behaviour will evolve to optimise physiological performance. The coadaptation hypothesis predicts that an animal's preferred body temperature will correspond to the temperature at which its performance is optimal. Here we use a strong inference approach to examine the relationship between thermal preference and locomotor performance in the caterpillars of a wingless sub-Antarctic moth, Pringleophaga marioni Viette (Tineidae). The coadaptation hypothesis and its alternatives (suboptimal is optimal, thermodynamic effect, trait variation) are tested. Compared to the optimal movement temperature (22.5 °C for field-fresh caterpillars and 25, 20, 22.5, 25 and 20 °C following seven day acclimations to 0, 5, 10, 15 and 5–15 °C respectively), caterpillar thermal preference was significantly lower (9.2 °C for field-fresh individuals and 9.4, 8.8, 8.1, 5.2 and 4.6 °C following acclimation to 0, 5, 10, 15 and 5–15 °C, respectively). Together with the low degree of asymmetry observed in the performance curves, and the finding that acclimation to high temperatures did not result in maximal performance, all, but one of the above hypotheses (i.e. ‘trait variation’) was rejected. The thermal preference of P. marioni caterpillars more closely resembles temperatures at which survival is high (5–10 °C), or where feeding is optimal (10 °C), than where locomotion speed is maximal, suggesting that thermal preference may be optimised for overall fitness rather than for a given trait.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-116
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Insect Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • Caterpillars
  • Coadaptation
  • Fluctuating temperatures
  • Locomotion
  • Thermal performance curves
  • Thermal preference

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