A comparative analysis of morphological, physiological, and biochemical adaptation to abiotic stress in intertidal porcelain crabs, genus Petrolisthes Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/70795b781

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  • Organismal tolerance to abiotic environmental stresses contributes significantly to setting the distribution limits of organisms, as demonstrated by vertical zonation patterns in the marine intertidal zone. In this thesis, the ultimate (evolutionary) and proximate (mechanistic) causes of tolerance to temperature and emersion stresses associated with the intertidal zone were examined using porcelain crabs, genus Petrolisthes. Species of Petrolisthes from intertidal and subtidal microhabitats of four biogeographic regions of the Eastern Pacific were used in phylogenetically-based comparative analyses of morphological, physiological, and biochemical adaptation to environmental stress. A phylogenetic tree based on the sequence of the 16sRNA gene was developed to facilitate these analyses. Organismal thermal tolerance limits are adapted to match maximal microhabitat temperatures. Acclimation of thermal tolerance limits suggests that temperate intertidal zone species are living close to their thermal maximum in nature. Respiratory responses to emersion vary among species from different vertical zones. Experimental examination of oxygen consumption rates and lactate accumulation during emersion suggests that intertidal species are able to respire in air using thin membranous regions on the ventral meral segments of their legs (leg membranes). Leg membrane size is positively correlated with body size across species, but not within a single species. Evolutionary analyses indicate that leg membranes may not have evolved for purposes of aerial respiration, but their presence may have allowed intertidal and subtidal species to achieve larger body sizes and higher metabolic rates. The thermal stabilities of an enzyme, lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), from 22 species of Petrolisthes varied widely, but were not correlated with maximal habitat temperatures. Comparative analyses did not indicate any evolutionary relationship between LDH thermal stability and microhabitat conditions. Experimental evidence suggests that interspecific differences in LDH stability are genetically based, and are due both to intrinsic properties of the LDH molecules and extrinsic protein stabilizers. Elucidation of the mechanism(s) of LDH stabilization in Petrolisthes may provide novel insight to the field of protein stabilization. These results studies suggest that individual traits may be subjected to differing levels of selection, and thus the analysis of environmental adaptation requires careful consideration of the biological significance of the traits being examined.
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