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Lifetime eurythermy by seasonally matched thermal performance of developmental stages in an annual aquatic insect

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Organisms with annual life cycles are exposed to life stage specific thermal environments across seasons. Seasonal variation in thermal environments can vary across years and among sites. We investigated how organisms with annual life cycles respond to predictable seasonal changes in temperature and unpredictable thermal variation between habitats and years throughout their lives. Field surveys and historical records reveal that the spatially and temporally heterogeneous thermal environments inhabited by the annual mayfly Ephemerella maculata (Ephemerellidae) shift the date for transition to the next, life stage, so that the thermal phenotype of each life stage matches the thermal environment of the specific habitat and year. Laboratory studies of three distinct life stages of this mayfly reveal that life stage transitions are temperature dependent, facilitating timing shifts that are synchronized with the current season’s temperatures. Each life stage exhibited specific thermal sensitivity and performance phenotypes that matched the ambient temperature typically experienced during that life stage. Our study across the whole life cycle reveals mechanisms that allow organisms to achieve lifetime eurythermy in a dynamic seasonal environment, despite having narrower thermal ranges for growth and development in each life stage.

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We thank W.P. Sousa, M.R. Miller, S.M. O’Rourke, S.M. Carlson, S. Kupferberg, C. Williams, and E. Armstrong for comments on the manuscript; J. Khemani, J. Porzio, L. Walder, and S. Pneh for lab and field assistance; S. Fay for technical assistance; M.E. Power for discussion of study design. We thank P. Steel, the Steel and the Angelo families, and the University of California Nature Reserve system for providing research sites, and temperature and discharge data. We finally appreciate all the reviewers and editors who helped improving this manuscript toward publication. This study was conducted under CDFW permit SC-12223 issued to H. Uno. This work was supported by a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation grant to the Berkeley Initiative for Global Change Biology, National Science Foundation for Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant to H. Uno (DEB-1501605) and Eel River Critical Zone Observatory (CZP EAR-1331940) as well as the graduate fellowships to H. Uno by Heiwa-Nakajima-Foundation and Japan Student Service Organization.

Author information

HU and JHS conceived the study; HU collected all data and performed the analysis. HU and JHS wrote the manuscript. All authors gave final approval for publication.

Correspondence to Hiromi Uno.

Additional information

Communicated by Jill Lancaster.

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Uno, H., Stillman, J.H. Lifetime eurythermy by seasonally matched thermal performance of developmental stages in an annual aquatic insect. Oecologia (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-020-04605-z

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  • Aquatic insect
  • Temperature
  • Life cycle
  • Season
  • Stream