Tropical organisms are more vulnerable to climate change and associated heat stress as they live close to their upper thermal limits (UTLs). UTLs do not only vary little across tropical species according to the basal versus plasticity ‘trade-off’ theory but may also be further constrained by low genetic variation. We tested this hypothesis, and its effects on ecosystem function using a diurnally active dung rolling beetle (telecoprid), Allogymnopleurus thalassinus (Klug, 1855) that inhabits arid environments. Specifically, (i) we tested basal heat tolerance (critical thermal maxima [CTmax] and heat knockdown time [HKDT]), and (ii) ecological functioning (dung removal) efficiency following dynamic chronic acclimation temperatures of variable high (VT-H) (28–45 °C) and variable low (VT-L) (28–16 °C). Results showed that A. thalassinus had extremely high basal heat tolerance (> 50 °C CTmax and high HKDT). Effects of acclimation were significant for heat tolerance, significantly increasing and reducing CTmax values for variable temperature high and variable temperature low respectively. Similarly, effects of acclimation on HKDT were significant, with variable temperature high significantly increasing HKDT, while variable temperature low reduced HKDT. Effects of acclimation on ecological traits showed that beetles acclimated to variable high temperatures were ecologically more efficient in their ecosystem function (dung removal) compared to those acclimated at variable low temperatures. Allogymnopleurus thalassinus nevertheless, had low acclimation response ratios, signifying limited scope for complete plasticity for UTLs tested here. This result supports the ‘trade-off’ theory, and that observed limited plasticity may unlikely buffer A. thalassinus against effects of climate change, and by extension, albeit with caveats to other tropical ecological service providing insect species. This work provides insights on the survival mechanisms of tropical species against heat and provides a framework for the conservation of these natural capital species that inhabit arid environments under rapidly changing environmental climate.
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