American Society of Naturalists

A membership society whose goal is to advance and to diffuse knowledge of organic evolution and other broad biological principles so as to enhance the conceptual unification of the biological sciences.

“Climate warming, resource availability, and the metabolic meltdown of ectotherms”

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Raymond B. Huey and Joel G. Kingsolver (Dec 2019)

Read the Article (Just Accepted)

Deleterious impacts of climate warming are amplified if food is reduced because food or foraging time is reduced


Climate warming may lower environmental resource levels, growth, and fitness of many ectotherms. In a classic experiment, Brett and colleagues (1969, 1971) documented that growth rates of salmon depended strikingly on both temperature and food levels. Here we develop a simple bioenergetic model that explores how fixed temperatures and food jointly alter the thermal sensitivity of net energy gain. The model incorporates differing thermal sensitivities of energy intake and metabolism. In qualitative agreement with Brett’s results, it predicts that decreased food intake reduces growth rates, lowers optimal temperatures for growth, and lowers the highest temperatures sustaining growth (upper thermal limit). Consequently, ectotherms facing reduced food intake in warm environments should restrict activity to times when low body temperatures are biophysically feasible, but – in a warming world – that will force ectotherms to shorten activity times and thus further reduce food intake. This ‘metabolic meltdown’ is a consequence of declining energy intake coupled with accelerating metabolic costs at high temperatures, and with warming-imposed restrictions on activity. Next, we extend the model to explore how increasing mean environmental temperatures alter the thermal sensitivity of growth: when food intake is reduced, optimal temperatures and upper thermal limits for growth are lowered. We discuss our model’s key assumptions and caveats, and its relationship to a recent model for phytoplankton. Both models illustrate that the deleterious impacts of climate warming on ectotherms will be amplified if food intake is also reduced, either because warming reduces standing food resources or because it restricts foraging time.