Intraspecific physiological variability of the gastropod Littorina saxatilis related to the vertical shore gradient in the White and North Seas
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Physiological responses to desiccation and temperature stress as well as behavioural responses to fast and abrupt environmental changes were investigated in high- and low-shore Littorina saxatilis (Olivi) from several populations from the White and North Seas. Variations in evaporation rates, resistance to air exposure and to acute and chronic temperature stress between animals from different shore levels were similar in White and North Sea periwinkles, consistent with the adaptive nature of these variations. High-shore snails were found to be able to conserve body water reserves better, to resist higher temperatures and to survive longer under conditions of combined temperature and desiccation stress than their low-shore counterparts. In a temperature range of 25 to 35 °C, the rate of evaporative water loss was positively correlated with temperature in low-shore snails while being largely temperature-independent in high-shore snails. Median lethal time during air exposure in L. saxatilis was negatively but not linearly related to the temperature of exposure. In a temperature range of 30 to 38 °C, the resistance to heat exposure in air was only slightly dependent on the temperature, with Q10 = 1.4 for the median lethal time; the heat resistance dropped drastically at temperatures above 38 °C, with Q10 = 593.8. This suggests different mechanisms of temperature resistance in different parts of the studied temperature range. In contrast, behavioural response to extreme salinity fluctuations was not uniform in the high- and low-shore periwinkles from the White and North Seas, which may reflect specific environmental conditions at different shore levels in the two areas studied. Observed physiological and behavioural variations are discussed from the viewpoint of different adaptive strategies employed by eulittoral and eulittoral-fringe animals within populations of a single species.
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