An intertidal fish shows thermal acclimation despite living in a rapidly fluctuating environment

  • Carmen Rose Burke da SilvaEmail author
  • Cynthia Riginos
  • Robbie Stuart Wilson
Original Paper


The co-evolution of acclimation capacity and thermal performance breadth has been a contentious issue for decades, and little is known regarding the extent to which acclimation alters the shape of acute thermal performance curves. Current acclimation theory suggests that when daily variation is large and unpredictable ectotherms should not acclimate but should evolve wide performance breadths, allowing maintenance of performance across a wide thermal range. The subtropical intertidal zone, however, experiences a large amount of daily thermal variation, but daily means and ranges shift in predictable ways with season, where daily and seasonal variation is roughly equal. We predicted that animals in this habitat would maintain their capacity to acclimate and that performance breadth would not be altered by acclimation to maintain function with rapidly fluctuating daily temperatures. We tested our prediction using a subtropical goby, Bathygobius cocosensis, which lives in tide pools that vary widely, over days and seasons. We exposed B. cocosensis to winter (12−17 °C) and summer (30−35 °C) thermal conditions for six weeks and then measured the thermal dependence of burst swimming speed, routine and maximum metabolic rate, and ventilation rate between 12 and 36 °C. B. cocosensis exhibited an acclimation response for burst swimming speed, maximum metabolic rate and metabolic scope, but acclimation did not alter the shape of acute thermal performance curves. These results indicate that thermal acclimation can occur when short-term thermal variability is large and equal to seasonal variation, and wide performance breadths can be maintained with acclimation in heterogeneous environments.


Acclimation Performance Climate change Plasticity Thermal variation Co-evolution 



We thank the Moreton Bay Research Station for accommodation and the Franklin Lab and Rebecca Cramp in particular for lending us experimental equipment. Thank-you to Ben Speers-Roesch, Hugh Winwood-Smith, Julian Beaman, Amanda Neihaus, Karen Burke da Silva, Joshua Thia and Iva Popovic for their help and advice. We also thank reviewer Patricia Schulte and other anonymous reviewers for providing helpful comments and feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there were no competing interests in this manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 144 KB)
360_2019_1212_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (76 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (XLSX 76 KB)


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological Sciences, Faculty of ScienceThe University of Queensland, Saint LuciaBrisbaneAustralia

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