An intertidal sea star adjusts thermal inertia to avoid extreme body temperatures

Am Nat. 2009 Dec;174(6):890-7. doi: 10.1086/648065.


The body temperature of ectotherms is influenced by the interaction of abiotic conditions, morphology, and behavior. Although organisms living in different thermal habitats may exhibit morphological plasticity or move from unfavorable locations, there are few examples of animals adjusting their thermal properties in response to short-term changes in local conditions. Here, we show that the intertidal sea star Pisaster ochraceus modulates its thermal inertia in response to prior thermal exposure. After exposure to high body temperature at low tide, sea stars increase the amount of colder-than-air fluid in their coelomic cavity when submerged during high tide, resulting in a lower body temperature during the subsequent low tide. Moreover, this buffering capacity is more effective when seawater is cold during the previous high tide. This ability to modify the volume of coelomic fluid provides sea stars with a novel thermoregulatory "backup" when faced with prolonged exposure to elevated aerial temperatures.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Size
  • Body Temperature
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Seawater / chemistry
  • Starfish / physiology*
  • Water Movements