Tolerance to high temperatures and potential impact of sea warming on reef fishes of Gorgona Island (tropical eastern Pacific)
- Cite this article as:
- Mora, C. & Ospína, A. Marine Biology (2001) 139: 765. doi:10.1007/s002270100626
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Knowledge of upper thermal-tolerance limits of marine organisms in the tropical eastern Pacific (TEP) is important because of the influence of phenomena such as El Niño and global warming, which increase sea temperature. Laboratory experiments were conducted to determine the critical thermal maximum (CTM) of reef fishes from the TEP. In 15 reef fishes of Gorgona Island (TEP) the CTM was between 34.7°C and 40.8°C. None of these CTMs was exceeded by sea temperature in the TEP during any of the strongest El Niño events in this century (32°C during El Niño 1982–1983 and 1997–1998), which indicates that all species studied here may tolerate El Niño maximum temperatures. In addition, the CTM of the least-tolerant species was 8°C above the current mean sea temperature in a wide range of latitudes in the TEP. This suggests that fishes live far from their upper thermal tolerance limits and that the current global-warming trend is still unlikely to be dangerous for these species. If sea temperature continues to increase at the current rate, in about a century sea temperature could exceed the thermal tolerance of some reef fishes and threaten them with extinction. Such risk, however, might occur sooner if the sea temperature during El Niño also increased in step with the global warming, but also because other processes involved in maintaining population, such as reproduction, can be affected at lower temperatures. The possible ability of reef fishes to adapt to increases in sea temperature is discussed.