Limits to phenotypic plasticity: flow effects on barnacle feeding appendages

Natasha K Li, Mark W Denny, Natasha Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Phenotypic plasticity, the capacity of a given genotype to produce differing morphologies in response to the environment, is widespread among marine organisms (1). For example, acorn barnacles feed by extending specialized appendages (the cirral legs) into flow, and the length of the cirri is plastic: the higher the velocity, the shorter the feeding legs (2,3). However, this effect has been explored only for flows less than 4.6 m/s, slow compared to typical flows measured at sites on wave-exposed shores. What happens at faster speeds? Leg lengths of Balanus glandula Darwin, 1854, an acorn barnacle, were measured at 15 sites in Monterey, California, across flows ranging from 0.5 to 14.0 m/s. Similar to previous findings, a plastic response in leg length was noted for the four sites with water velocities less than 3 m/s. However, no plastic response was present at the 11 sites exposed to faster velocities, despite a 4-fold variation in speed. We conclude that the velocity at which the plastic response occurs has an upper limit of 2-4 m/s, a velocity commonly exceeded within the typical habitat of this species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-4
Number of pages4
JournalBiological Bulletin
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2004


  • Phenotype
  • Extremities
  • Regression Analysis
  • Animals
  • Thoracica
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Body Weights and Measures
  • Seawater
  • Water Movements
  • Acclimatization
  • Feeding Behavior

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