Within-patch and edge microclimates vary over a growing season and are amplified during a heatwave : Consequences for ectothermic insects

Gols, R.; Ojeda-Prieto, L.M.; Li, K.; Putten, W.H. van der; Harvey, J.A.


Embedded in longer term warming are extreme climatic events such as heatwaves and droughts that are increasing in frequency, duration and intensity. Changes in climate attributes such as temperature are often measured over larger spatial scales, whereas environmental conditions to which many small ectothermic arthropods are exposed are largely determined by small-scale local conditions. Exposed edges of plant patches often exhibit significant short-term (daily) variation to abiotic factors due to wind exposure and sun radiation. By contrast, within plant patches, abiotic conditions are generally much more stable and thus less variable. Over an eight-week period in the summer of 2020, including an actual heatwave, we measured small-scale (1 m2) temperature variation in patches of forbs in experimental mesocosms. We found that soil surface temperatures at the edge of the mesocosms were more variable than those within mesocosms. Drought treatment two years earlier, amplified this effect but only at the edges of the mesocosms. Within a plant patch both at the soil surface and within the canopy, the temperature was always lower than the ambient air temperature. The temperature of the soil surface at the edge of a patch may exceed the ambient air temperature when ambient air temperatures rise above 23 °C. This effect progressively increased with ambient temperature. We discuss how microscale-variation in temperature may affect small ectotherms such as insects that have limited ability to thermoregulate, in particular under conditions of extreme heat.