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Integr Comp Biol. 2002 Aug;42(4):790-6. doi: 10.1093/icb/42.4.790.

Causes and consequences of thermal tolerance limits in rocky intertidal porcelain crabs, genus petrolisthes.

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Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University, Oceanview Blvd., Pacific Grove, California 93950.


Vertical zonation of intertidal organisms, from the shallow subtidal to the supralittoral zones, is a ubiquitous feature of temperate and tropical rocky shores. Organisms that live higher on the shore experience larger daily and seasonal fluctuations in microhabitat conditions, due to their greater exposure to terrestrial conditions during emersion. Comparative analyses of the adaptive linkage between physiological tolerance limits and vertical distribution are the most powerful when the study species are closely related and occur in discrete vertical zones throughout the intertidal range. Here, I summarize work on the physiological tolerance limits of rocky intertidal zone porcelain crab species of the genus Petrolisthes to emersion-related heat stress. In the eastern Pacific, Petrolisthes species live throughout temperate and tropical regions, and are found in discrete vertical intertidal zones in each region. Whole organism thermal tolerance limits of Petrolisthes species, and thermal limits of heart and nerve function reflect microhabitat conditions. Species living higher in the intertidal zone are more eurythermal than low-intertidal congeners, tropical species have the highest thermal limits, and the differences in thermal tolerance between low- and high-intertidal species is greatest for temperate crabs. Acclimation of thermal limits of high-intertidal species is restricted as compared to low-intertidal species. Thus, because thermal limits of high-intertidal species are near current habitat temperature maxima, global warming could most strongly impact intertidal species.

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