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J Exp Biol. 2017 Aug 1;220(Pt 15):2685-2696. doi: 10.1242/jeb.134585.

Oxygen- and capacity-limited thermal tolerance: bridging ecology and physiology.

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Section of Integrative Ecophysiology, Biosciences, Alfred-Wegener-Institute, Bremerhaven D-27570, Germany
Section of Integrative Ecophysiology, Biosciences, Alfred-Wegener-Institute, Bremerhaven D-27570, Germany.


Observations of climate impacts on ecosystems highlight the need for an understanding of organismal thermal ranges and their implications at the ecosystem level. Where changes in aquatic animal populations have been observed, the integrative concept of oxygen- and capacity-limited thermal tolerance (OCLTT) has successfully characterised the onset of thermal limits to performance and field abundance. The OCLTT concept addresses the molecular to whole-animal mechanisms that define thermal constraints on the capacity for oxygen supply to the organism in relation to oxygen demand. The resulting 'total excess aerobic power budget' supports an animal's performance (e.g. comprising motor activity, reproduction and growth) within an individual's thermal range. The aerobic power budget is often approximated through measurements of aerobic scope for activity (i.e. the maximum difference between resting and the highest exercise-induced rate of oxygen consumption), whereas most animals in the field rely on lower (i.e. routine) modes of activity. At thermal limits, OCLTT also integrates protective mechanisms that extend time-limited tolerance to temperature extremes - mechanisms such as chaperones, anaerobic metabolism and antioxidative defence. Here, we briefly summarise the OCLTT concept and update it by addressing the role of routine metabolism. We highlight potential pitfalls in applying the concept and discuss the variables measured that led to the development of OCLTT. We propose that OCLTT explains why thermal vulnerability is highest at the whole-animal level and lowest at the molecular level. We also discuss how OCLTT captures the thermal constraints on the evolution of aquatic animal life and supports an understanding of the benefits of transitioning from water to land.


Aerobic performance; Aerobic power budget; Air breather; Organisational complexity; Oxygen demand; Oxygen supply; Sublethal thermal limits; Temperature adaptation; Water breather

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