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Thermal tolerances of littorinid snails from temperate and subtropical South Africa


Environmental temperature affects ectotherm performance and fitness because physiological performance increases up to a sublethal optimum temperature; this is not fixed, but depends on the species and individual history. We explored the influence of species identity, size and thermal history on thermal tolerance in four species of littorinid snails in South Africa. As expected, heat coma temperature (HCT) was lower than the lethal temperatures (LT50), and was greater for juveniles, while LT50 was greater for adults. The ranking by both metrics was Echinolittorina natalensis > Littoraria glabrata > Afrolittorina africana > A. knysnaensis, reflecting their biogeographical distributions. No species showed an effect of laboratory acclimation for 14 days at temperatures from 20 to 35 °C, though HCT was lower for field fresh individuals than for all other treatments. Nor was there acclimatisation of LT50 between seasons. Bioregion is a proxy for lifetime acclimatisation yet the Afrolittorina species showed nonsignificant differences between conspecifics from different regions. The effect of size differed between the two metrics, and field fresh individuals showed lower HCT values than laboratory-treated individuals— which taken together indicates the need for care when interpreting the results of lab work. The thermal tolerances of these species reflect their biogeography and appear fixed with little or no plasticity, rendering these littorinids vulnerable to future climate warming.