Biochemical indicators of stress and metabolism: applications for marine ecological studies

Annu Rev Physiol. 2004;66:183-207. doi: 10.1146/annurev.physiol.66.032102.114509.


Studies investigating the effects of temperature, food availability, or other physical factors on the physiology of marine animals have led to the development of biochemical indicators of growth rate, metabolic condition, and physiological stress. Measurements of metabolic enzyme activity and RNA/DNA have been especially valuable as indicators of condition in studies of marine invertebrates and fishes, groups for which accurate determination of field metabolic rates is difficult. Properly calibrated and applied, biochemical indicators have been successfully used in studies of rocky intertidal ecology, where two decades of experimentation have generated rigorous, testable models for determining the relative influences of biotic and abiotic factors on species distribution, abundance, and interaction. Biochemical indicators of condition and metabolic activity (metabolic enzymes, RNA/DNA) have been used to test nutrient-productivity models by demonstrating tight linkages between nearshore oceanographic processes (such as upwelling) and benthic rocky intertidal ecosystems. Indices of condition and heat stress (heat shock proteins, or Hsps) have begun to be used to test environmental stress models by comparing condition, activity, and Hsp expression of key rocky intertidal predator and prey species. Using biochemical indicators of condition and stress in natural systems holds great promise for understanding mechanisms by which organisms respond to rapid environmental change.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA / metabolism
  • Ecology / methods*
  • Heat Stress Disorders / metabolism
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism
  • Marine Biology / methods*
  • RNA / metabolism
  • Stress, Physiological / metabolism*


  • Heat-Shock Proteins
  • RNA
  • DNA