Impacts of Climate Variability and Change on (Marine) Animals: Physiological Underpinnings and Evolutionary Consequences

Hans.Poertner [ at ]


Understanding thermal ranges and limits of organisms becomes important in light of climate change and observed effects on ecosystems as reported by the IPCC (2014). Evolutionary adaptation to temperature is presently unable to keep animals and other organisms in place; if they can these rather follow the moving isotherms. These effects of climate change on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems have brought into focus the mechanisms by which temperature and its oscillations shape the biogeography and survival of species. For animals, the integrative concept of oxygen and capacity limited thermal tolerance (OCLTT) has successfully characterized the sublethal limits to performance and the consequences of such limits for ecosystems. Recent models illustrate how routine energy demand defines the realized niche. Steady state temperature-dependent performance profiles thus trace the thermal window and indicate a key role for aerobic metabolism, and the resulting budget of available energy (power), in defining performance under routine conditions, from growth to exercise and reproduction. Differences in the performance and productivity of marine species across latitudes relate to changes in mitochondrial density, capacity, and other features of cellular design. Comparative studies indicate how and why such mechanisms underpinning OCLTT may have developed on evolutionary timescales in different climatic zones and contributed to shaping the functional characteristics and species richness of the respective fauna. A cause-and-effect understanding emerges from considering the relationships between fluctuations in body temperature, cellular design, and performance. Such principles may also have been involved in shaping the functional characteristics of survivors in mass extinction events during earth’s history; furthermore, they may provide access to understanding the evolution of endothermy in mammals and birds. Accordingly, an understanding is emerging how climate changes and variability throughout earth’s history have influenced animal evolution and co-defined their success or failure from a bio-energetic point of view. Deepening such understanding may further reduce uncertainty about projected impacts of anthropogenic climate variability and change on the distribution, productivity and last not least, survival of aquatic and terrestrial species.

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Peer revision
ISI/Scopus peer-reviewed
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DOI 10.1093/icb/icw019

Cite as
Pörtner, H. O. and Gutt, J. (2016): Impacts of Climate Variability and Change on (Marine) Animals: Physiological Underpinnings and Evolutionary Consequences , Integrative and Comparative Biology, 56 (1), pp. 31-44 . doi: 10.1093/icb/icw019



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