In nature, a multitude of factors influences the fitness of an organism at a given time, which makes single stressor assessments far from ecologically relevant scenarios. This study focused on the effects of water temperature and predation stress on the metabolism and body mass gain of a common intertidal rock pool fish, Gobius paganellus, addressing the following hypotheses: (1) the energy metabolism of G. paganellus under predation stress is reduced; (2) G. paganellus shows thermal compensation under heat stress; and (3) thermal stress is the dominant stressor that may override predation stress responses. Individuals were exposed to simulated predation stress and temperature increase from 20 °C to 29 °C, and both stressors combined. Physiological effects were addressed using biochemical biomarkers related with energy metabolism (isocitrate dehydrogenase, lactate dehydrogenase, energy available, energy consumption rates), oxidative stress (superoxide dismutase, catalase, DNA damage, lipid peroxidation), and biotransformation (glutathione-S-transferase). The results of this study revealed that predation stress reduced the cellular metabolism of G. paganellus, and enhanced storage of protein reserves. As hypothesized, hyperthermia decreased the aerobic mitochondrial metabolism, indicating thermal compensation mechanisms to resist against unfavourable temperatures. Hyperthermia was the dominant stressor overriding the physiological responses to predation stress. Both stressors combined might further have synergistically activated detoxification pathways, even though not strong enough to counteract lipid peroxidation and DNA damage completely. The synergistic effect of combined thermal and predation stress thus may not only increase the risk of being preyed upon, but also may indicate extra energy trade-off for the basal metabolism, which in turn may have ecologically relevant consequences for general body functions such as somatic growth and reproduction. The present findings clearly underline the ecological importance of multi-stressor assessments to provide a better and holistic picture of physiological responses towards more realistic evaluations of climate change consequences for intertidal populations.
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