Review Article

Social dimensions of physiological responses to global climate change: what we can learn from ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

Chick, L.D., Perez, A. & Diamond, S.E.


Abstract: Organisms possess a wide range of physiological mechanisms to cope with climate change, yet most of what we know about these mechanisms comes from solitary organisms. Because there is a tight linkage between climate change and organismal physiologies, understanding the physiological mechanisms driving the responses of species to climate change has emerged as a research priority in ecology and evolutionary biology. However, responses become more complex when considering social organisms, as their responses to a changing climate can involve hundreds or even thousands of individuals that make up a single colony. Ants are especially good model systems for how social organisms may physiologically cope with global changes in climate, as they are geographically widespread and occur across diverse climatic regimes. Surprisingly, ants have received remarkably little attention in context of physiological responses to climate change given their ubiquity and key roles in many ecosystems. In particular, we have yet to bridge the gap between individual and colony-level responses to climate change in social organisms. In this review, we use ants as a focal taxon to examine the general patterns and mechanisms associated with thermal physiology and performance in individuals; how colony-level performance might differ in social organisms; and where the fields of physiological ecology and myrmecology can converge to better understand how ants will respond to anthropogenic changes in climate.