Thermal Tolerance Of Early Development Predicts The Realized Thermal Niche In Marine Ectotherms

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Functional Ecology


1. Predictions of ectotherms' responses to global warming depend on the relationship between environmental temperature and organismal performance. To date, most predictions of thermal responses are generated from experimentally derived measures of thermal tolerances of adults or estimates of thermal niches derived from geographic distributions of adults. It is unknown how measures derived from these different approaches compare, or, as thermal performance of ectotherms varies through ontogeny, how they compare across life stages. 2. To understand the efficacy of the temperature–performance relationship of early developmental stages as predictors of geographic range, we empirically documented the upper and lower thermal tolerance limits of embryos of eight species of ectotherms with complex life cycles. 3. We compared the embryonic thermal tolerances of each species to that of the adults (documented in a previous study), as well as to an estimate of the thermal niche derived from adult distributions. 4. Our results show that in all eight species the upper thermal limit estimated from embryos is significantly lower than the upper thermal limit estimated from adults. The lower thermal limit for embryos and for adult performance are similar, but the lower thermal limit for adult survival is significantly lower. 5. Warming tolerances, calculated as the difference between upper tolerance limit and the average ambient temperature during the warmest month, for each species are also smaller for embryos (~1°C) than for adults (~5°C). 6. These results show that thermal tolerances of early developmental stages, which are often easier to obtain for large sample sizes over an array of temperatures than are tolerances of adults, are a powerful, and potentially more accurate tool for predicting future responses to climate change.