Send to

Choose Destination
Biol Bull. 2009 Aug;217(1):73-85.

Linking thermal tolerances and biogeography: Mytilus edulis (L.) at its southern limit on the east coast of the United States.

Author information

Department of Biological Sciences, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina 29208, USA.


Temperature is a major factor contributing to the latitudinal distribution of species. In the Northern Hemisphere, a species is likely to be living very close to its upper thermal tolerance limits at the southern limit of its biogeographic range. With global warming, this southern limit is expected to shift poleward. Moreover, intertidal ecosystems are expected to be especially strongly affected, mostly due to their large daily and seasonal variations in temperature and exposure. Hence, these are model systems in which to conduct experiments examining the ecological effects of climate change. In this study we determined the upper lethal thermal limits, for both air and water, of the blue mussel Mytilus edulis via laboratory experiments. Tolerances vary seasonally, with a difference between media of 0.7 degrees C in June and 4.8 degrees C in November, as well as a decrease with multiple exposures. Measured lethal limits were then compared to field measurements of environmental temperature and concurrent measurements of mortality rates. Field results indicate that mortality in the intertidal occurs at rates expected from laboratory responses to elevated temperature. Hindcasts, retrospective analyses of historical data, indicate that high rates of mortality have shifted 51 and 42 days earlier in Beaufort, North Carolina, and Oregon Inlet, North Carolina, respectively, between 1956 and 2007. The combined data suggest that the historical southern limit of M. edulis near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, is indeed the result of intolerance to high temperature, and that this range edge is shifting poleward in a manner indicative of global warming.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for University of Chicago Press
Loading ...
Support Center