Reduced oxygen at high altitude limits maximum size

L. S. Peck, G. Chapelle

Abstract

The trend towards large size in marine animals with latitude, and the existence of giant marine species in polar regions have long been recognized, but remained enigmatic until a recent study showed it to be an effect of increased oxygen availability in sea water of a low temperature. The effect was apparent in data from 12 sites worldwide because of variations in water oxygen content controlled by differences in temperature and salinity. Another major physical factor affecting oxygen content in aquatic environments is reduced pressure at high altitude. Suitable data from high-altitude sites are very scarce. However, an exceptionally rich crustacean collection, which remains largely undescribed, was obtained by the British 1937 expedition from Lake Titicaca on the border between Peru and Bolivia in the Andes at an altitude of 3809 m. We show that in Lake Titicaca the maximum length of amphipods is 2-4 times smaller than other low-salinity sites (Caspian Sea and Lake Baikal).