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Journal of Experimental Biology partnership with Dryad

The effect of water temperature and flow on respiration in barnacles: patterns of mass transfer versus kinetic limitation
Michael T. Nishizaki, Emily Carrington


In aquatic systems, physiological processes such as respiration, photosynthesis and calcification are potentially limited by the exchange of dissolved materials between organisms and their environment. The nature and extent of physiological limitation is, therefore, likely to be dependent on environmental conditions. Here, we assessed the metabolic sensitivity of barnacles under a range of water temperatures and velocities, two factors that influence their distribution. Respiration rates increased in response to changes in temperature and flow, with an interaction where flow had less influence on respiration at low temperatures, and a much larger effect at high temperatures. Model analysis suggested that respiration is mass transfer limited under conditions of low velocity (<7.5 cm −1) and high temperature (20–25°C). In contrast, limitation by uptake reaction kinetics, when the biotic capacity of barnacles to absorb and process oxygen is slower than its physical delivery by mass transport, prevailed at high flows (40–150 cm s−1) and low temperatures (5–15°C). Moreover, there are intermediate flow-temperature conditions where both mass transfer and kinetic limitation are important. Behavioral monitoring revealed that barnacles fully extend their cirral appendages at low flows and display abbreviated ‘testing’ behaviors at high flows, suggesting some form of mechanical limitation. In low flow–high temperature treatments, however, barnacles displayed distinct ‘pumping’ behaviors that may serve to increase ventilation. Our results suggest that in slow-moving waters, respiration may become mass transfer limited as temperatures rise, whereas faster flows may serve to ameliorate the effects of elevated temperatures. Moreover, these results underscore the necessity for approaches that evaluate the combined effects of multiple environmental factors when examining physiological and behavioral performance.


  • Author contributions

    M.T.N. and E.C. contributed to the conception of experiments and data analysis, as well as the drafting and revising of the paper. M.T.N. led the data collection.

  • Competing interests

    The authors declare no competing financial interests.

  • Funding

    Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation [no. OCEO824903 to E.C.] and the Stephen and Ruth Wainwright Endowed Fellowship, Alan J. Kohn Endowed Fellowship, Kathryn C. Hahn Writing Fellowship and University of Washington Biology Department – Friday Harbor Laboratories Award to M.T.N.

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