Understanding the resilience of ectotherms to high temperatures is essential because of the influence of climate change on aquatic ecosystems. The ability of species to acclimate to high temperatures may determine whether populations can persist in their native ranges. We examined physiological and molecular responses of juvenile brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) to six acclimation temperatures (5, 10, 15, 20, 23 and 25°C) that span the thermal distribution of the species to predict acclimation limits. Brook trout exhibited an upregulation of stress-related mRNA transcripts (heat shock protein 90-beta, heat shock cognate 71 kDa protein, glutathione peroxidase 1) and downregulation of transcription factors and osmoregulation-related transcripts (nuclear protein 1, Na+/K+/2Cl co-transporter-1-a) at temperatures ≥20°C. We then examined the effects of acclimation temperature on metabolic rate (MR) and physiological parameters in fish exposed to an acute exhaustive exercise and air exposure stress. Fish acclimated to temperatures ≥20°C exhibited elevated plasma cortisol and glucose, and muscle lactate after exposure to the acute stress. Fish exhibited longer MR recovery times at 15 and 20°C compared with the 5 and 10°C groups; however, cortisol levels remained elevated at temperatures ≥20°C after 24 h. Oxygen consumption in fish acclimated to 23°C recovered quickest after exposure to acute stress. Standard MR was highest and factorial aerobic scope was lowest for fish held at temperatures ≥20°C. Our findings demonstrate how molecular and physiological responses predict acclimation limits in a freshwater fish as the brook trout in the present study had a limited ability to acclimate to temperatures beyond 20°C.

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