Temperature and the chemical composition of poikilothermic organisms

H. A. Woods, W. Makino, J. B. Cotner, S. E. Hobbie, J. F. Harrison, K. Acharya, J. J. Elser

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216 Scopus citations


1. Temperature strongly affects virtually all biological rate processes, including many central to organismal fitness such as growth rate. A second factor related to growth rate is organismal chemical composition, especially C: N: P stoichiometry. This association arises because high rates of growth require disproportionate investment in N- and P-rich biosynthetic cellular structures. Here the extent to which these factors interact is examined - does acclimation temperature systematically affect organismal chemical composition? 2. A literature survey indicates that cold-acclimated poikilotherms contain on average 30-50% more nitrogen [N], phosphorus [P], protein and RNA than warm-exposed conspecifics. The primary exception was bacteria, which showed increases in RNA content but no change in protein content at cold temperatures. 3. Two processes - changes in nutrient content (or concentration) and in organism size - contribute to the overall result. Although qualitatively distinct, both kinds of change lead to increased total catalytic capacity in cold-exposed organisms. 4. Temperature-driven shifts in nutrient content of organisms are likely to resonate in diverse ecological patterns and processes, including latitudinal and altitudinal patterns of nutrient content, foraging decisions by organisms living in strong temperature gradients, and patterns of biodiversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-245
Number of pages9
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2003


  • Acclimation
  • Growth
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Stoichiometry


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