Central predictions of climate warming models include increased climate variability and increased severity of heat waves. Physiological acclimatization in populations across large-scale ecological gradients in habitat temperature fluctuation is an important factor to consider in detecting responses to climate change related increases in thermal fluctuation. We measured in vivo cardiac thermal maxima and used microarrays to profile transcriptome heat and cold stress responses in cardiac tissue of intertidal zone porcelain crabs across biogeographic and seasonal gradients in habitat temperature fluctuation. We observed acclimatization dependent induction of heat shock proteins, as well as unknown genes with heat shock protein-like expression profiles. Thermal acclimatization had the largest effect on heat stress responses of extensin-like, beta tubulin, and unknown genes. For these genes, crabs acclimatized to thermally variable sites had higher constitutive expression than specimens from low variability sites, but heat stress dramatically induced expression in specimens from low variability sites and repressed expression in specimens from highly variable sites. Our application of ecological transcriptomics has yielded new biomarkers that may represent sensitive indicators of acclimatization to habitat temperature fluctuation. Our study also has identified novel genes whose further description may yield novel understanding of cellular responses to thermal acclimatization or thermal stress.
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