A test of the thermal melanism hypothesis in the wingless grass-hopper Phaulacridium vittatum
Harris, RM and McQuillan, PB and Hughes, L, A test of the thermal melanism hypothesis in the wingless grass-hopper Phaulacridium vittatum, Journal of Insect Science, 13 Article 51. ISSN 1536-2442 (2013) [Refereed Article]
Altitudinal clines in melanism are generally assumed to reflect the fitness benefits resulting from thermal differences between colour morphs, yet differences in thermal quality are not always discernible. The intra-specific application of the thermal melanism hypothesis was tested in the wingless grasshopper Phaulacridium vittatum (Sjöstedt) (Orthoptera: Acrididae) first by measur-ing the thermal properties of the different colour morphs in the laboratory, and second by testing for differences in average reflectance and spectral characteristics of populations along 14 altitudinal gradients. Correlations between reflectance, body size, and climatic variables were also tested to investigate the underlying causes of clines in melanism. Melanism in P. vittatum represents a gradation in colour rather than distinct colour morphs, with reflectance ranging from 2.49 to 5.65%. In unstriped grasshoppers, darker morphs warmed more rapidly than lighter morphs and reached a higher maximum temperature (lower temperature excess). In contrast, significant differences in thermal quality were not found between the colour morphs of striped grasshoppers. In support of the thermal melanism hypothesis, grasshoppers were, on average, darker at higher altitudes, there were differences in the spectral properties of brightness and chroma between high and low altitudes, and temperature variables were significant influences on the average reflectance of female grasshoppers. However, altitudinal gradients do not represent predictable variation in temperature, and the relationship between melanism and altitude was not consistent across all gradients. Grasshoppers generally became darker at altitudes above 800 m a.s.l., but on several gradients reflectance declined with altitude and then increased at the highest altitude.