Thermally mediated body temperature, water content and aggregation behaviour in the intertidal gastropod Nerita atramentosa

  • Chapperon C
  • Le Bris C
  • Seuront L
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Abstract

Intertidal organisms are vulnerable to global warming as they already live at, or near to, the upper limit of their thermal tolerance window. The behaviour of ectotherms could, however, dampen their limited physiological abilities to respond to climate change (e.g. drier and warmer environmental conditions) which could substantially increase their survival rates. The behaviour of ectotherms is still mostly overlooked in climate change studies. Here, we investigate the potential of aggregation behaviour to compensate for climate change in an intertidal gastropod species (Nerita atramentosa) in South Australia. We used thermal imaging to investigate (1) the heterogeneity in individual snail water content and body temperature and surrounding substratum temperature on two topographically different habitats (i.e. rock platform and boulders) separated by 250 m at both day- and night-times, (2) the potential relationship between environment temperature (air and substratum) and snail water content and body temperature, and (3) the potential buffering effect of aggregation behaviour on snail water content and body temperature. Both substratum and snail temperature were more heterogeneous at small spatial scales (a few centimetres to a few metres) than between habitats. This reinforces the evidence that mobile intertidal ectotherms could survive locally under warmer conditions if they can locate and move behaviourally in local thermal refuges. N. atramentosa behaviour, water content and body temperature during emersion seem to be related to the thermal stability and local conditions of the habitat occupied. Aggregation behaviour reduces both desiccation and heat stresses but only on the boulder field. Further investigations are required to identify the different behavioural strategies used by ectothermic species to adapt to heat and dehydrating conditions at the habitat level. Ultimately, this information constitutes a fundamental prerequisite to implement conservation management plans for ectothermic species identified as vulnerable in the warming climate.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Aggregation
  • Body temperature
  • Conservation management
  • Desiccation stress
  • Ectotherms
  • Rocky shore
  • Snail
  • Thermal imaging
  • Thermal stress
  • Water content

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