Thermodynamic Effects on Organismal Performance: Is Hotter Better?

Physiol Biochem Zool. Mar-Apr 2010;83(2):197-206. doi: 10.1086/648567.


Despite decades of research on the evolution of thermal physiology, at least one fundamental issue remains unresolved: whether the maximal performance of a genotype depends on its optimal temperature. One school argues that warm-adapted genotypes will outperform cold-adapted genotypes because high temperatures inevitably accelerate chemical reactions. Yet another school holds that biochemical adaptation can compensate for thermodynamic effects on performance. Here, we briefly discuss this theoretical debate and then summarize empirical studies that address whether hotter is better. In general, comparative and experimental studies support the view that hotter is better. Furthermore, recent modeling has shown that thermodynamic constraints impose unique selective pressures on thermal sensitivity. Nevertheless, the thermodynamic effect on maximal performance varies greatly among traits and taxa, suggesting the need to develop a more sophisticated view of thermodynamic constraints.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization / genetics
  • Acclimatization / physiology
  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics
  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Animals
  • Body Temperature Regulation / genetics
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism / genetics
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Genotype
  • Hot Temperature
  • Models, Biological
  • Thermodynamics