Physiological processes that set an organism’s thermal limits are in part determining recent shifts in biogeographic distribution ranges due to global climate change. Several characteristics of the heat-shock response (HSR), such as the onset, maximal, and upper limit of heat-shock protein (Hsp) synthesis, contribute to setting the acute upper thermal limits of most organisms. Aquatic animals from stable, moderately variable, or highly variable thermal environments differ in their HSR. Some animals living in extremely stable thermal environments lack the response altogether. In contrast, rocky intertidal animals that experience highly variable thermal conditions start synthesizing Hsps, that is, the onset of synthesis, below the highest temperatures that they experience. Thus, these organisms experience thermal conditions in their environment that are close to the upper thermal limits in which they can defend themselves against cellular thermal insults by employing the HSR. Subtidal animals are characterized bymoderately variable thermal environments, and their cells start synthesizing Hsps above the highest temperatures that they experience. The upper thermal limits against which they can defend themselves are thus much higher than the highest body temperatures they currently experience. Furthermore, the ability to acclimate to changing thermal conditions seems greatest among animals from moderately variable environments and limited in animals from stable and highly variable environments. Thus, these findings suggest that organisms with the narrowest (stenothermal) and the widest (highly eurythermal) temperature tolerance ranges live closest to their thermal limits and have a limited ability to acclimate, suggesting that they will be most affected by global climate change.



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