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The Biological Bulletin



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For organisms living in the intertidal zone, temperature is an important selective agent that can shape species distributions and drive phenotypic variation among populations. Littorinid snails, which occupy the upper limits of rocky shores and estuaries worldwide, often experience extreme high temperatures and prolonged aerial emersion during low tides, yet their robust physiology—coupled with morphological and behavioral traits—permits these gastropods to persist and exert strong grazing control over algal communities. We use a mechanistic heat-budget model to compare the effects of behavioral and morphological traits on the body temperatures of five species of littorinid snails under natural weather conditions. Model predictions and field experiments indicate that, for all five species, the relative contribution of shell color or sculpturing to temperature regulation is small, on the order of 0.2–2 °C, while behavioral choices such as removing the foot from the substratum or reorienting the shell can lower body temperatures by 2–4 °C on average. Temperatures in central California rarely exceeded the thermal tolerance limits of the local littorinid species during the study period, but at sites where snails are regularly exposed to extreme high temperatures, the functional significance of the tested traits may be important. The mechanistic approach used here provides the ability to gauge the importance of behavioral and morphological traits for controlling body temperature as species approach their physiological thresholds.


This article was originally published in The Biological Bulletin Volume 220, Iss. 3 by University of Chicago press in June 2011. The article is also available online at this link.

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