Measuring thermal behavior in smaller insects: A case study in Drosophila melanogaster demonstrates effects of sex, geographic origin, and rearing temperature on adult behavior
Measuring thermal behavior in smaller insects is particularly challenging. In this study, we describe a new horizontal thermal gradient apparatus designed to study adult thermal behavior in small insects and apply it using D. melanogaster as a model and case study. Specifically, we used this apparatus and associated methodology to examine the effects of sex, geographic origin, and developmental rearing temperature on temperature preferences exhibited by adults in a controlled laboratory environment. The thermal gradient established by the apparatus was stable over diurnal and calendar time. Furthermore, the distribution of adult flies across thermal habitats within the apparatus remained stable following the period of acclimation, as evidenced by the high degree of repeatability across both biological and technical replicates. Our data demonstrate significant and predictable variation in temperature preference for all 3 assayed variables. Behaviorally, females were more sensitive than males to higher temperatures. Flies originating from high latitude, temperate populations exhibited a greater preference for cooler temperatures; conversely, flies originating from low latitude, tropical habitats demonstrated a relative preference for higher temperatures. Similarly, larval rearing temperature was positively associated with adult thermal behavior: low culture temperatures increased the relative adult preference for cooler temperatures, and this response was distinct between the sexes and for flies from the temperate and subtropical geographic regions. Together, these results demonstrate that the temperature chamber apparatus elicits robust, predictable, and quantifiable thermal preference behavior that could readily be applied to other taxa to examine the role of temperature-mediated behavior in a variety of contexts.