Phenotypic plasticity is not a cline: Thermal physiology of an intertidal barnacle over 20° of latitude

Bernardo R. Broitman, Nelson A. Lagos, Tania Opitz, Daniela Figueroa, Karin Maldonado, Natalia Ricote, Marco A. Lardies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Our understanding of the plastic and evolutionary potential of ectothermic organisms and their populational impacts in the face of rapid global change remains limited. Studies attempting on the relationship between the magnitude of thermal variability across latitude and the degree of phenotypic plasticity exhibited by marine ectotherms are inconclusive. We state that the latter arises from the narrow range of thermal variability captured by the limited span of the latitudinal gradients studied to date. Using a mechanistic ecophysiological approach and a satellite-based assessment of the relevant environmental variables (i.e. temperature and food availability), we studied individuals of the intertidal barnacle Jehlius cirratus from seven local populations widely spread along the Humboldt current system that spanning two biogeographic regions. At the same time, we synthesized published information on the local abundance of our study species across a total of 76 sites representing 20° of latitude, and spanning from 18 to 42°S. We examined the effects of latitude and environmental variability on metabolic rate plasticity, thermal tolerance (thermal breadth and thermal safety margins) and their impacts on the abundance of this widespread marine invertebrate. We demonstrate that the phenotypic plasticity of metabolic rate in J. cirratus populations is not related to latitude. In turn, thermal breadth is explained by the temperature variability each population experiences. Furthermore, we found clinal variation with a poleward decrease of the critical thermal minimum, suggesting that episodic extreme low temperatures represent a ubiquitous selective force on the lower thermal limit for ectotherms. Across our study gradient, plasticity patterns indicate that populations at the equatorial extreme are more vulnerable to a warming climate, while populations located in the biogeographic transitional zone (i.e. high environmental heterogeneity), on the centre of the gradient, display higher levels of phenotypic plasticity and may represent a genetic buffer for the effects of ocean warming. Together, our results suggest the existence of a fitness trade-off involving the metabolic cost of plasticity and population density that is evident only across the vast latitudinal gradient examined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1961-1972
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Jehlius cirratus
  • abundance
  • metabolism
  • ocean warming
  • plasticity
  • reaction norm
  • thermal breadth


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