Phenotypic variance, plasticity and heritability estimates of critical thermal limits depend on methodological context
1. Biologists have long been concerned with measuring thermal performance curves and limits because of their significance to fitness. Basic experimental design may have a marked effect on the outcome of such measurements, and this is true especially of the experimental rates of temperature change used during assessments of critical thermal limits to activity. To date, the focus of work has almost exclusively been on the effects of rate variation on mean values of the critical limits. 2. If the rate of temperature change used in an experimental trial affects not only the trait mean but also its variance, estimates of heritable variation would also be profoundly affected. Moreover, if the outcomes of acclimation are likewise affected by methodological approach, assessment of beneficial acclimation and other hypotheses might also be compromised. 3. In this article, we determined whether this is the case for critical thermal limits using a population of the model species Drosophila melanogaster and the invasive ant species Linepithema humile. 4. We found that effects of the different rates of temperature change are variable among traits and species. However, in general, different rates of temperature change resulted in different phenotypic variances and different estimates of heritability, presuming that genetic variance remains constant. We also found that different rates resulted in different conclusions regarding the responses of the species to acclimation, especially in the case of L. humile. 5. Although it seems premature to dismiss past generalities concerning interspecific and acclimation-related variation in critical thermal limits, we recommend that conditions during trials be appropriately selected, carefully reported and rigorously controlled. © 2008 The Authors.