Metabolic costs imposed by hydrostatic pressure constrain bathymetric range in the lithodid crab Lithodes maja

Alastair Brown, Sven Thatje, James Morris, Andrew Oliphant, Elizabeth Morgan, Chris Hauton, Daniel Jones, David Pond

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21 Citations (Scopus)
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Changing climate is shifting the distributions of marine species, yet the potential for shifts in depth distributions is virtually unexplored. Hydrostatic pressure is proposed to contribute to a physiological bottleneck constraining depth range extension in shallow-water taxa. However, bathymetric limitation by hydrostatic pressure remains undemonstrated, and the mechanism limiting hyperbaric tolerance remains hypothetical. Here, we assess the effects of hydrostatic pressure in the lithodid crab Lithodes maja (bathymetric range 4-790 m depth, approximately equivalent to 0.1 to 7.9 MPa hydrostatic pressure). Heart rate decreased with increasing hydrostatic pressure, and was significantly lower at ≥10.0 MPa than at 0.1 MPa. Oxygen consumption increased with increasing hydrostatic pressure to 12.5 MPa, before decreasing as hydrostatic pressure increased to 20.0 MPa: oxygen consumption was significantly higher at 7.5-17.5 MPa than at 0.1 MPa. Increases in expression of genes associated with neurotransmission, metabolism and stress were observed between 7.5 and 12.5 MPa. We suggest that hyperbaric tolerance in L. maja may be oxygen-limited by hyperbaric effects on heart rate and metabolic rate, but that L. maja’s bathymetric range is limited by metabolic costs imposed by the effects of high hydrostatic pressure. These results advocate including hydrostatic pressure in a complex model of environmental tolerance, where energy-limitation constrains biogeographic range, and facilitate incorporating hydrostatic pressure into the broader metabolic framework for ecology and evolution. Such an approach is crucial for accurately projecting biogeographic responses to changing climate, and for understanding the ecology and evolution of life at depth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3916-3926
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


  • Biogeographic range limitation
  • Heart rate
  • Metabolic theory
  • Respiration rate
  • Hydrostatic pressure
  • Hyperbaric physiology


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