Thermoregulation and thermal sensitivity of performance are thought to have coevolved so that performance is optimized within the selected body temperature range. However, locomotor performance in thermoregulating crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) is plastic and maxima shift to different selected body temperatures in different thermal environments. Here we test the hypothesis that muscle metabolic and biomechanical parameters are optimized at the body temperatures selected in different thermal environments. Hence, we related indices of anaerobic (lactate dehydrogenase) and aerobic (cytochrome c oxidase) metabolic capacities and myofibrillar ATPase activity to the biomechanics of isometric and work loop caudofemoralis muscle function. Maximal isometric stress (force per muscle cross-sectional area) did not change with thermal acclimation, but muscle work loop power output increased with cold acclimation as a result of shorter activation and relaxation times. The thermal sensitivity of myofibrillar ATPase activity decreased with cold acclimation in caudofemoralis muscle. Neither aerobic nor anaerobic metabolic capacities were directly linked to changes in muscle performance during thermal acclimation, although there was a negative relationship between anaerobic capacity and isometric twitch stress in cold-acclimated animals. We conclude that by combining thermoregulation with plasticity in biomechanical function, crocodiles maximize performance in environments with highly variable thermal properties.
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