Limpets of the genus Lottia occupy a broad vertical distribution on wave-exposed rocky shores, a range that encompasses gradients in the frequency and severity of thermal and desiccation stress brought on by aerial emersion. Using western blot analysis of levels of heat-shock protein 70 (Hsp70), we examined the heat-shock responses of four Lottia congeners: Lottia scabra and L. austrodigitalis, which occur in the high-intertidal zone, and L. pelta and L. scutum, which are restricted to the low- and mid-intertidal zones. Our results suggest distinct strategies of Hsp70 expression in limpets occupying different heights and orientations in the rocky intertidal zone. In freshly field-collected animals and in specimens acclimated at ambient temperature ( approximately 14 degrees C) for 14 days, the two high-intertidal species had higher constitutive levels of Hsp70 than the low- and mid-intertidal species. During aerial exposure to high temperatures, the two low-shore species and L. austrodigitalis exhibited an onset of Hsp70 expression at 28 degrees C; no induction of Hsp70 occurred in L. scabra. Our findings suggest that high-intertidal congeners of Lottia employ a "preparative defense" strategy involving maintenance of high constitutive levels of Hsp70 in their cells as a mechanism for protection against periods of extreme and unpredictable heat stress.