The complex drivers of thermal acclimation and breadth in ectotherms

Jason R. Rohr, David J. Civitello, Jeremy M. Cohen, Elizabeth A. Roznik, Barry Sinervo, Anthony I. Dell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

144 Scopus citations


Thermal acclimation capacity, the degree to which organisms can alter their optimal performance temperature and critical thermal limits with changing temperatures, reflects their ability to respond to temperature variability and thus might be important for coping with global climate change. Here, we combine simulation modelling with analysis of published data on thermal acclimation and breadth (range of temperatures over which organisms perform well) to develop a framework for predicting thermal plasticity across taxa, latitudes, body sizes, traits, habitats and methodological factors. Our synthesis includes > 2000 measures of acclimation capacities from > 500 species of ectotherms spanning fungi, invertebrates, and vertebrates from freshwater, marine and terrestrial habitats. We find that body size, latitude, and methodological factors often interact to shape acclimation responses and that acclimation rate scales negatively with body size, contributing to a general negative association between body size and thermal breadth across species. Additionally, we reveal that acclimation capacity increases with body size, increases with latitude (to mid-latitudinal zones) and seasonality for smaller but not larger organisms, decreases with thermal safety margin (upper lethal temperature minus maximum environmental temperatures), and is regularly underestimated because of experimental artefacts. We then demonstrate that our framework can predict the contribution of acclimation plasticity to the IUCN threat status of amphibians globally, suggesting that phenotypic plasticity is already buffering some species from climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1425-1439
Number of pages15
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • Acclimation
  • critical thermal limits
  • global climate change
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • thermal biology
  • thermal performance curves


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