Animals will continue to encounter increasingly warm environments, including more frequent and intense heat waves. Yet the physiological consequences of heat waves remain equivocal, potentially because of variation in adaptive plasticity (reversible acclimation) and/or aspects of experimental design. Thus, we measured a suite of physiological variables in the corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus) after exposure to field-parameterized, fluctuating temperature regimes (moderate temperature and heat wave treatments) to address two hypotheses: (1) a heat wave causes physiological stress, and (2) thermal performance of immune function exhibits adaptive plasticity in response to a heat wave. We found little support for our first hypothesis because a simulated heat wave had a negative effect on body mass, but it also reduced oxidative damage and did not affect peak performance of three immune metrics. Likewise, we found only partial support for our second hypothesis. After exposure to a simulated heat wave, P. guttatus exhibited greater performance breadth and reduced temperature specialization (the standardized difference between peak performance and performance breadth) for only one of three immune metrics and did so in a sex-dependent manner. Further, a simulated heat wave did not elicit greater performance of any immune metric at higher temperatures. Yet a heat wave likely reduced innate immune function in P. guttatus because each metric of innate immune performance in this species (as in most vertebrates) was lower at elevated temperatures. Together with previous research, our study indicates that a heat wave may have complex, modest, and even positive physiological effects in some taxa.
A simulated heat wave has diverse effects on immune function and oxidative physiology in the corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus)
Stahlschmidt, Z. R., et al. (2017) "A simulated heat wave has diverse effects on immune function and oxidative physiology in the corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus)." Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 90(4):434–444.