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Integr Comp Biol. 2011 Nov;51(5):691-702. doi: 10.1093/icb/icr097. Epub 2011 Aug 13.

Thermal performance curves, phenotypic plasticity, and the time scales of temperature exposure.

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Department of Zoology, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


Thermal performance curves (TPCs) describe the effects of temperature on biological rate processes. Here, we use examples from our work on common killifish (Fundulus heteroclitus) to illustrate some important conceptual issues relating to TPCs in the context of using these curves to predict the responses of organisms to climate change. Phenotypic plasticity has the capacity to alter the shape and position of the TPCs for acute exposures, but these changes can be obscured when rate processes are measured only following chronic exposures. For example, the acute TPC for mitochondrial respiration in killifish is exponential in shape, but this shape changes with acclimation. If respiration rate is measured only at the acclimation temperature, the TPC is linear, concealing the underlying mechanistic complexity at an acute time scale. These issues are particularly problematic when attempting to use TPCs to predict the responses of organisms to temperature change in natural environments. Many TPCs are generated using laboratory exposures to constant temperatures, but temperature fluctuates in the natural environment, and the mechanisms influencing performance at acute and chronic time scales, and the responses of the performance traits at these time scales may be quite different. Unfortunately, our current understanding of the mechanisms underlying the responses of organisms to temperature change is incomplete, particularly with respect to integrating from processes occurring at the level of single proteins up to whole-organism functions across different time scales, which is a challenge for the development of strongly grounded mechanistic models of responses to global climate change.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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