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J Exp Biol. 2009 Feb;212(Pt 4):514-22. doi: 10.1242/jeb.024034.

Do mitochondrial properties explain intraspecific variation in thermal tolerance?

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Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, 6270 University Boulevard, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada.


As global temperatures rise, there is a growing need to understand the physiological mechanisms that determine an organism's thermal niche. Here, we test the hypothesis that increases in mitochondrial capacity with cold acclimation and adaptation are associated with decreases in thermal tolerance using two subspecies of killifish (Fundulus heteroclitus) that differ in thermal niche. We assessed whole-organism metabolic rate, mitochondrial amount and mitochondrial function in killifish acclimated to several temperatures. Mitochondrial enzyme activities and mRNA levels were greater in fish from the northern subspecies, particularly in cold-acclimated fish, suggesting that the putatively cold-adapted northern subspecies has a greater capacity for increases in mitochondrial amount in response to cold acclimation. When tested at the fish's acclimation temperature, maximum ADP-stimulated (State III) rates of mitochondrial oxygen consumption in vitro were greater in cold-acclimated northern fish than in southern fish but did not differ between subspecies at higher acclimation temperatures. Whole-organism metabolic rate was greater in fish of the northern subspecies at all acclimation temperatures. Cold acclimation also changed the response of mitochondrial respiration to acute temperature challenge. Mitochondrial oxygen consumption was greater in cold-acclimated northern fish than in southern fish at low test temperatures, but the opposite was true at high test temperatures. These differences were reflected in whole-organism oxygen consumption. Our data indicate that the plasticity of mitochondrial function and amount differs between killifish subspecies, with the less high-temperature tolerant, and putatively cold adapted, northern subspecies having greater ability to increase mitochondrial capacity in the cold. However, there were few differences in mitochondrial properties between subspecies at warm acclimation temperatures, despite differences in both whole-organism oxygen consumption and thermal tolerance at these temperatures.

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