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PLoS One. 2010 Oct 11;5(10):e13299. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013299.

Counter-gradient variation in respiratory performance of coral reef fishes at elevated temperatures.

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School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia.


The response of species to global warming depends on how different populations are affected by increasing temperature throughout the species' geographic range. Local adaptation to thermal gradients could cause populations in different parts of the range to respond differently. In aquatic systems, keeping pace with increased oxygen demand is the key parameter affecting species' response to higher temperatures. Therefore, respiratory performance is expected to vary between populations at different latitudes because they experience different thermal environments. We tested for geographical variation in respiratory performance of tropical marine fishes by comparing thermal effects on resting and maximum rates of oxygen uptake for six species of coral reef fish at two locations on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), Australia. The two locations, Heron Island and Lizard Island, are separated by approximately 1200 km along a latitudinal gradient. We found strong counter-gradient variation in aerobic scope between locations in four species from two families (Pomacentridae and Apogonidae). High-latitude populations (Heron Island, southern GBR) performed significantly better than low-latitude populations (Lizard Island, northern GBR) at temperatures up to 5°C above average summer surface-water temperature. The other two species showed no difference in aerobic scope between locations. Latitudinal variation in aerobic scope was primarily driven by up to 80% higher maximum rates of oxygen uptake in the higher latitude populations. Our findings suggest that compensatory mechanisms in high-latitude populations enhance their performance at extreme temperatures, and consequently, that high-latitude populations of reef fishes will be less impacted by ocean warming than will low-latitude populations.

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