Geographic Variation in Responses of European Yellow Dung Flies to Thermal Stress

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Cold shock, Egg size, Egg content, Fecundity, Heat shock protein, Latitude, Reproductive investment, Survival

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Interdisciplinary Research Incubator for the Study of (In)Equality


Climatic conditions can be very heterogeneous even over small geographic scales, and are believed to be major determinants of the abundance and distribution of species and populations. Organisms are expected to evolve in response to the frequency and magnitude of local thermal extremes, resulting in local adaptation. Using replicate yellow dung fly (Scathophaga stercoraria; Diptera: Scathophagidae) populations from cold (northern Europe) and warm climates (southern Europe), we compared 1) responses to short-term heat and cold shocks in both sexes, 2) heat shock protein (Hsp70) expression in adults and eggs, and 3) female reproductive traits when facing short-term heat stress during egg maturation. Contrary to expectations, thermal traits showed minor geographic differentiation, with weak evidence for greater heat resistance of southern flies but no differentiation in cold resistance. Hsp70 protein expression was little affected by heat stress, indicating systemic rather than induced regulation of the heat stress response, possibly related to this fly group's preference for cold climes. In contrast, sex differences were pronounced: males (which are larger) endured hot temperatures longer, while females featured higher Hsp70 expression. Heat stress negatively affected various female reproductive traits, reducing first clutch size, overall reproductive investment, egg lipid content, and subsequent larval hatching. These responses varied little across latitude but somewhat among populations in terms of egg size, protein content, and larval hatching success. Several reproductive parameters, but not Hsp70 expression, exhibited heritable variation among full-sib families. Rather than large-scale clinal geographic variation, our study suggests some local geographic population differentiation in the ability of yellow dung flies to buffer the impact of heat stress on reproductive performance.

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