Polar terrestrial invertebrates are suggested as being vulnerable to temperature change relative to lower latitude species, and hence possibly also to climate warming. Previous studies have shown Antarctic and Arctic Collembola and Acari to possess good heat tolerance and survive temperature exposures above 30 °C. To test this feature further, the heat tolerance and physiological plasticity of heat stress were explored in the Arctic collembolan, Megaphorura arctica, from Svalbard and the Antarctic midge, Eretmoptera murphyi, from Signy Island. The data obtained demonstrate considerable heat tolerance in both species, with upper lethal temperatures =35 °C (1 h exposures), and tolerance of exposure to 10 and 15 °C exceeding 56 days. This tolerance is far beyond that required in their current environment. Average microhabitat temperatures in August 2011 ranged between 5.1 and 8.1 °C, and rarely rose above 10 °C, in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard. Summer soil microhabitat temperatures on Signy Island have previously been shown to range between 0 and 10 °C. There was also evidence to suggest that E. murphyi can recover from high-temperature exposure and that M. arctica is capable of rapid heat hardening. M. arctica and E. murphyi therefore have the physiological capacity to tolerate current environmental conditions, as well as future warming. If the features they express are characteristically more general, such polar terrestrial invertebrates will likely fare well under climate warming scenarios.
Insects are highly successful animals inhabiting marine, freshwater and terrestrial habitats from the equator to the poles. As a group, insects have limited ability to regulate their body temperature and have thus required a range of strategies to support life in thermally stressful environments, including behavioural avoidance through migration and seasonal changes in cold tolerance. With respect to overwintering strategies, insects have traditionally been divided into two main groups: freeze tolerant and freeze avoiding, although this simple classification is underpinned by a complex of interacting processes, i.e. synthesis of ice nucleating agents, cryoprotectants, antifreeze proteins and changes in membrane lipid composition. Also, in temperate and colder climates, the overwintering ability of many species is closely linked to the diapause state, which often increases cold tolerance ahead of temperature-induced seasonal acclimatisation. Importantly, even though most species can invoke one or both of these responses, the majority of insects die from the effects of cold rather than freezing. Most studies on the effects of a changing climate on insects have focused on processes that occur predominantly in summer (development, reproduction) and on changes in distributions rather than winter survival per se. For species that routinely experience cold stress, a general hypothesis would be that predicted temperature increases of 1 degree C to 5 degrees C over the next 50-100 years would increase winter survival in some climatic zones. However, this is unlikely to be a universal effect. Negative impacts may occur if climate warming leads to a reduction or loss of winter snow cover in polar and sub-polar areas, resulting in exposure to more severe air temperatures, increasing frequency of freeze-thaw cycles and risks of ice encasement. Likewise, whilst the dominant diapause-inducing cue (photoperiod) will be unaffected by global climate change, higher temperatures may modify normal rates of development, leading to a decoupling of synchrony between diapause-sensitive life-cycle stages and critical photoperiods for diapause induction. In terms of climate warming and potential heat stress, the most recent predictions of summer temperatures in Europe of 40 degrees C or higher in 50-75 years, are close to the current upper lethal limit of some insects. Long-term data sets on insect distributions and the timing of annual migrations provide strong evidence for 'positive' responses to higher winter temperatures over timescales of the past 20-50 years in North America, Europe and Asia.