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Is oxygen limitation in warming waters a valid mechanism to explain decreased body sizes in aquatic ectotherms?


Audzijonyte, A and Barneche, DR and Baudron, AR and Belmaker, J and Clark, TD and Marshall, CT and Morrongiello, JR and van Rijn, I, Is oxygen limitation in warming waters a valid mechanism to explain decreased body sizes in aquatic ectotherms?, Global Ecology and Biogeography, 28, (2) pp. 64-77. ISSN 1466-822X (2018) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright Statement

© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Audzijonyte A, Barneche DR, Baudron AR, et al. Is oxygen limitation in warming waters a valid mechanism to explain decreased body sizes in aquatic ectotherms?. Global Ecol Biogeogr. 2018;00:1–14, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.

DOI: doi:10.1111/geb.12847


Aim: The negative correlation between temperature and body size of ectothermic animals (broadly known as the temperature‐size rule or TSR) is a widely observed pattern, especially in aquatic organisms. Studies have claimed that the TSR arises due to decreased oxygen solubility and increasing metabolic costs at warmer temperatures, whereby oxygen supply to a large body becomes increasingly difficult. However, mixed empirical evidence has led to a controversy about the mechanisms affecting species’ size and performance under different temperatures. We review the main competing genetic, physiological and ecological explanations for the TSR and suggest a roadmap to move the field forward.

Location: Global.

Taxa: Aquatic ectotherms.

Time period: 1980–present.

Results: We show that current studies cannot discriminate among alternative hypotheses and none of the hypotheses can explain all TSR‐related observations. To resolve this impasse, we need experiments and field‐sampling programmes that specifically compare alternative mechanisms and formally consider energetics related to growth costs, oxygen supply and behaviour. We highlight the distinction between evolutionary and plastic mechanisms, and suggest that the oxygen limitation debate should separate processes operating on short, decadal and millennial time‐scales.

Conclusions: Despite decades of research, we remain uncertain whether the TSR is an adaptive response to temperature‐related physiological (enzyme activity) or ecological changes (food, predation and other mortality), or a response to constraints operating at a cellular level (oxygen supply and associated costs). To make progress, ecologists, physiologists, modellers and geneticists should work together to develop a cross‐disciplinary research programme that integrates theory and data, explores time‐scales over which the TSR operates, and assesses limits to adaptation or plasticity. We identify four questions for such a programme. Answering these questions is crucial given the widespread impacts of climate change and reliance of management on models that are highly dependent on accurate representation of ecological and physiological responses to temperature.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:climate change, adaptation, fish growth, alternative mechanisms, energy budget, geometric biology, growth, poikilotherm, temperature size rule
Research Division:Agricultural, Veterinary and Food Sciences
Research Group:Fisheries sciences
Research Field:Fisheries sciences not elsewhere classified
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Terrestrial systems and management
Objective Field:Assessment and management of terrestrial ecosystems
UTAS Author:Audzijonyte, A (Dr Asta Audzijonyte)
ID Code:128459
Year Published:2018
Web of Science® Times Cited:71
Deposited By:Ecology and Biodiversity
Deposited On:2018-09-24
Last Modified:2022-07-04
Downloads:38 View Download Statistics

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