Exploring physiological plasticity and local thermal adaptation in an intertidal crab along a latitudinal cline

Juan Diego Gaitán-Espitia, Leonardo D. Bacigalupe, Tania Opitz, Nelson A. Lagos, Sebastián Osores, Marco A. Lardies

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30 Scopus citations


Intertidal organisms have evolved physiological mechanisms that enable them to maintain performance and survive during periods of severe environmental stress with temperatures close to their tolerance limits. The level of these adaptive responses in thermal physiology can vary among populations of broadly distributed species depending on their particular environmental context and genetic backgrounds. Here we examined thermal performances and reaction norms for metabolic rate (MR) and heart rate (HR) of seven populations of the porcelanid crab Petrolisthes violaceus from markedly different thermal environments across the latitudinal gradient of ~3000 km. Physiological responses of this intertidal crab under common-garden conditions suggest the absence of local thermal adaptation along the geographic gradient (i.e., lack of latitudinal compensation). Moreover, thermal physiological sensitivities and performances in response to increased temperatures evidenced the existence of some level of: i) metabolic rate control or depression during warm temperature exposures; and ii) homeostasis/canalization (i.e., absence or low levels of plasticity) in physiological traits that may reflect some sort of buffering mechanism in most of the populations. Nevertheless, our results indicate that elevated temperatures can reduce cardiac function but not metabolic rate in high latitude crabs. The lack of congruence between HR and MR supports the idea that energy metabolism in marine invertebrates cannot be inferred from HR and different conclusions regarding geographic differentiation in energy metabolism can be obtained from both physiological traits. Integrating thermal physiology and species range extent can contribute to a better understanding of the likely effects of climate change on natural populations of marine ectotherms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-20
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Thermal Biology
StatePublished - Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Genotype x environment
  • Geographic variation
  • Heart beat
  • Metabolism
  • Physiological flexibility
  • Reaction norm
  • Thermo-tolerance


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