Temperature affects almost every part of an organism’s daily experience. Biologists have already studied at length how animals can survive in the climates they live in and the strategies they employ to avoid overheating or freezing to death. However, little research has been done on how temperature affects animals beyond mere survival. A research team led by the Washington University in St. Louis has now explored the myriad ways in which thermal biology co-adapts with traits favored by sexual selection, including courtship displays, ornamental coloration, or enlarged weapons such as claws or horns.
“Now that we have studied many of the traits that animals have developed to survive the temperatures they face, we are beginning to realize that these traits also have consequences for where and how animals reproduce,” said said the study‘s lead author, Michael. Moore, a postdoctoral fellow in evolutionary ecology at the University of Washington. “But as we thought about how an animal’s thermal traits influence the way it tries to attract mates, we also couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a vision of very survival-focused adaptation.”
“It assumes that how animals reproduce in their climate is entirely dependent on how they evolved to survive in that climate. However, we know from decades of behavioral ecology research that animals are often at risk of being eaten or parasitized if it means they could potentially attract a mate. We were then curious why the threat of overheating should be different.
The study found that, in fact, the animals often put their lives at risk to reproduce and manage to develop mechanisms that allow them to tolerate the dangerous temperatures they often encounter during mating. In some animal populations, increased heat tolerance has evolved to accommodate heat absorbed or retained by traits used for mating, giving them adaptive advantages to warming temperatures – which may turn out to have major benefits in a warming world like ours.
“In some cases, sexual traits are even directly beneficial for dissipating heat, such as antelope horns and fiddler crab claws,” explained study co-author Noah Leith, a PhD student in thermal ecology and breeding. sexual to St. Louis University. “Sexual selection on horns or claws may therefore work in concert with natural selection and hasten adaptation to warmer temperatures. Beyond increased reproductive success in altered climates, there are a variety of unexplored ways in which sexual selection can directly improve an organism’s non-mating performance during climate change.
Further research is needed to clarify the consequences of global warming on sexual interaction and other reproductive processes. “What’s really new about our work is that we show that reproduction can sometimes be the main reason for many adaptations that animals have to cope with their local climate,” Dr Moore concluded.
The study is published in the journal Ecology Letters.
By Andrei Ionescu, Terre.com Personal editor