Effect of a gradually increasing temperature on the behavioral and physiological response of juvenile Hippocampus erectus: thermal preference, tolerance, energy balance and growth

Mascaro, M.  - Horta, J.L - Diaz, F. - Paschke, K. - Rosas, R. - Simões, N.

The physiological and behavioural responses of ectotherms to temperature is strongly dependent on the individuals' previous thermal history. Laboratory based studies investigating the mechanisms of thermoregulation in marine ectotherms, however, rarely consider key temporal elements of thermal exposure, such as the rate at which temperature changes.

 

We tested the hypothesis that juvenile seahorses, Hippocampus erectus, from a tropical coastal lagoon in Yucatan, Mexico, would exhibit variations in physiological and behavioural descriptors of thermoregulation when submitted to contrasting regimes during 30 days: temperature constant at 25 °C (C 25); gradually increasing 1 °C every 5 days from 25 to 30 °C (GI 25-30); and constant at 30 °C (C 30). Immediately after exposure, critical maximum temperature, thermal preference, oxygen consumption, partial energy balance, growth rate and survival of seahorses were measured. Seahorses exposed to GI 25-30 showed a significantly higher critical thermal maxima (37.8 ± 0.9 °C), preference (28.7 ± 0.4 °C), growth (1.10 ± 0.49%) and survival (97.6%) than those exposed to C 30 (36.5 ± 1, 29.4 ± 0.3 °C, 0.48 ± 0.32%, 73.8%, respectively). Both high temperature regimes induced metabolic depression, but ramping resulted in a greater amount of energy assimilated (278.9 ± 175.4 J g-1 day-1) and higher energy efficiency for growth (89.8%) than constant exposure to 30 °C (115.4 ± 63.4 J g-1 day-1, 65.3%, respectively).

 

Gradually increasing temperature allowed physiological mechanisms of thermal adjustment to take place, reflecting the capacity of juvenile H. erectus to respond to environmental change. Despite its advantage, this capacity is limited in time, since the cumulative effect of thermal exposure affected metabolic performance, eventually compromising survival. The study of seahorse response to thermal variations in the context of ocean warming needs to consider the temporal elements of thermal exposure to foresee its vulnerability under future scenarios.

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