The prevalence of extreme, short-term temperature spikes in coastal regions during summer months is predicted to increase with ongoing climate change. In tropical systems, these changes are predicted to increase the metabolic demand of coral reef fish larvae while also altering the plankton communities upon which the larvae feed during their pelagic phase. The consequences of these predictions remain speculative in the absence of empirical data on the interactive effects of warm temperatures on the metabolism, postprandial processes and growth responses of coral reef fish larvae. Here, we tested the effect of increased temperature on the metabolism, postprandial performance and fine-scale growth patterns of a coral reef fish (Amphiprion percula) in the latter half of its ~11-d larval phase. First, we measured the length and weight of fed versus fasted larvae (N = 340; mean body mass 4.1±0.05 mg) across fine temporal scales at a typical current summer temperature (28.5°C) and a temperature that is likely be encountered during warm summer periods later this century (31.5°C). Second, we measured routine metabolic rate (Mo2 routine) and the energetics of the postprandial processes (i.e., digestion, absorption and assimilation of a meal; termed specific dynamic action (SDA)) at both temperatures. Larvae fed voraciously when provided with food for a 12-hour period and displayed a temperature-independent increase in mass of 40.1% (28.5°C) and 42.6% (31.5°C), which was largely associated with the mass of prey in the gut. A subsequent 12-h fasting period revealed that the larvae had grown 21.2±4.8% (28.5°C) and 22.8±8.8% (31.5°C) in mass and 10.3±2.0% (28.5°C) and 7.8±2.6% (31.5°C) in length compared with pre-feeding values (no significant temperature effect). Mo2 routine was 55±16% higher at 31.5°C and peak Mo2 during the postprandial period was 28±11% higher at 31.5°C, yet elevated temperature had no significant effect on SDA (0.51±0.06 J at 28.5°C vs. 0.53±0.07 J at 31.5°C), SDA duration (6.0±0.6 h vs. 6.5±0.5 h), or the percent of total meal energy used for SDA (SDA coefficient: 10.1±1.3% vs. 13.0±1.7%). Our findings of higher Mo2 routine but similar SDA coefficient at high temperature provide the first empirical evidence that coral reef fish larvae may have to secure more food to attain similar growth rates during warm summer periods, and perhaps with chronically warmer conditions associated with climate change.
digestion, coral reef fish, metabolic rate, specific dynamic action, SDA