Oxygen hypothesis of polar gigantism not supported by performance of Antarctic pycnogonids in hypoxia

H. Arthur Woods, Amy L. Moran, Claudia P. Arango, Lindy Mullen, Chris Shields

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36 Scopus citations


Compared to temperate and tropical relatives, some high-latitude marine species are large-bodied, a phenomenon known as polar gigantism. A leading hypothesis on the physiological basis of gigantism posits that, in polar water, high oxygen availability coupled to low metabolic rates relieves constraints on oxygen transport and allows the evolution of large body size. Here, we test the oxygen hypothesis using Antarctic pycnogonids, which have been evolving in very cold conditions (-1.8-0°C) for several million years and contain spectacular examples of gigantism. Pycnogonids from 12 species, spanning three orders of magnitude in body mass, were collected from McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Individual sea spiders were forced into activity and their performance was measured at different experimental levels of dissolved oxygen (DO). The oxygen hypothesis predicts that, all else being equal, large pycnogonids should perform disproportionately poorly in hypoxia, an outcome that would appear as a statistically significant interaction between body size and oxygen level. In fact, although we found large effects of DO on performance, and substantial interspecific variability in oxygen sensitivity, there was no evidence for size×DO interactions. These data do not support the oxygen hypothesis of Antarctic pycnogonid gigantism and suggest that explanations must be sought in other ecological or evolutionary processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1069-1075
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1659
StatePublished - Mar 22 2009


  • Antarctica
  • Oxygen
  • Polar gigantism
  • Sea spider
  • Symmorphosis
  • Temperature


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