Preferred temperature of intertidal ectotherms: Broad patterns and methodological approaches


*Corresponding author for this work

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

18 Citations (Scopus)


Preferred temperature (Tpref) has been measured in over 100 species of aquatic and 300 species of terrestrial ectotherms as a metric for assessing behavioural thermoregulation in variable environments and, as such, has been linked to ecological processes ranging from individual behaviour to population and community dynamics. Due to the asymmetric shape of performance curves, Tpref is typically lower than the optimal temperature (Topt, where physiological performance is at its peak), and the degree of this mismatch increases with variability in Tb. Intertidal ectotherms experience huge variability in Tb on a daily basis and therefore provide a good system to test whether the relationship between Tpref and variation in Tb holds in more extreme environments. A review of the literature, however, only revealed comparisons between Tpref and Topt for five intertidal species and measurements of Tpref for 23 species. An analysis of this limited literature for intertidal ectotherms showed a positive relationship between acclimation temperature and Tpref. There was, however, great variation in the methodologies employed to make these assessments. Factors contributing to behavioural thermoregulation in intertidal ectotherms including small body size; low mobility; interactions among individuals; endogenous clocks; metabolic effects; thermal sensitivity; sampling of the thermal environment and recent acclimation history were considered to varying degrees when measuring Tpref, confounding comparisons between species. The methodologies used to measure Tpref in intertidal ectotherms were reviewed in light of each of these factors, and methodologies proposed to standardize approaches. Given the theoretical predictions about the relationships between Tpref and variability in Tb, the spatial and temporal thermal variability experienced by intertidal ectotherms provides numerous opportunities to test these expectations if assessed in a standardized manner, and can potentially provide insights into the value of behavioural thermoregulation in the more thermally variable environments predicted to occur in the near future.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102468
JournalJournal of Thermal Biology
Early online date26 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

This work supported by the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong , HKU17138916.


  • Acclimation
  • Intertidal
  • Preferred temperature
  • Thermoregulation


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