Many organisms adjust their thermal sensitivities in response to environmental conditions. This form of phenotypic plasticity, referred to as acclimation, involves potentially reversible changes in the quantity and quality of cellular structures. Although these adjustments impose energetic costs, a more serious cost results from the time lag required to acclimate following changes in temperature. Optimality models, based on the costs imposed by time lags, can be used to predict the acclimation of performance curves in fluctuating environments. Contrary to current theory, acclimation of the thermal optimum rarely occurs in laboratory experiments. Furthermore, a genotype's capacity for acclimation rarely correlates with the magnitude or predictability of thermal heterogeneity in its natural environment. Even with their shortcomings, current optimality models constitute a major advance over verbal models, such as the beneficial acclimation hypothesis.
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