High thermal stress responses of Echinolittorina snails at their range edge predict population vulnerability to future warming

Guo-dong HAN, Stephen R. CARTWRIGHT, Monthon GANMANEE, Benny K.K. CHAN, Kee A.A. ADZIS, Neil HUTCHINSON, Jie WANG, Tommy Y. HUI, Gray A. WILLIAMS*, Yun-wei DONG

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Populations at the edge of their species' distribution ranges are typically living at the physiological extreme of the environmental conditions they can tolerate. As a species' response to global change is likely to be largely determined by its physiological performance, subsequent changes in environmental conditions can profoundly influence populations at range edges, resulting in range extensions or retractions. To understand the differential physiological performance among populations at their distribution range edge and center, we measured levels of mRNA for heat shock protein 70 (hsp70) as an indicator of temperature sensitivity in two high-shore littorinid snails, Echinolittorina malaccana and E. radiata, between 1°N to 36°N along the NW Pacific coast. These Echinolittorina snails are extremely heat-tolerant and frequently experience environmental temperatures in excess of 55 °C when emersed. It was assumed that animals exhibiting high temperature sensitivity will synthesize higher levels of mRNA, which will thus lead to higher energetic costs for thermal defense. Populations showed significant geographic variation in temperature sensitivity along their range. Snails at the northern range edge of E. malaccana and southern range edge of E. radiata exhibited higher levels of hsp70 expression than individuals collected from populations at the center of their respective ranges. The high levels of hsp70 mRNA in populations at the edge of a species' distribution range may serve as an adaptive response to locally stressful thermal environments, suggesting populations at the edge of their distribution range are potentially more sensitive to future global warming.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)763-771
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date2 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

The work was funded by a grant from the Research Grants Council (RGC), Hong Kong ( HKU782011M ) to GAW and grants from National Natural Science Foundation of China ( 41476115 , 41776135 ) and Nature Science funds for Distinguished Young Scholars of Fujian Province, China ( 2017J07003 ) to YWD. The authors would like to thank Prof Vo Si Tuan, and Ms. Vi Dong (Vietnam); Ms. Sureewan Srijad and Ms. Sujitra Samakrama (Thailand); Dr. Vivian Wei Bao Bao (Sanya); and Dr. Cynthia YM Wong (Singapore) for help with sample collection. We are extremely grateful to Prof. George Somero (Stanford University, USA) for insightful comments to improve the MS.


  • Biogeography
  • Distribution range
  • Global change
  • Heat shock response
  • Physiological stress


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