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Thermal performance curves (TPCs), which quantify how an ectotherm's body temperature (Tb ) affects its performance or fitness, are often used in an attempt to predict organismal responses to climate change. Here, we examine the key - but often biologically unreasonable - assumptions underlying this approach; for example, that physiology and thermal regimes are invariant over ontogeny, space and time, and also that TPCs are independent of previously experienced Tb. We show how a critical consideration of these assumptions can lead to biologically useful hypotheses and experimental designs. For example, rather than assuming that TPCs are fixed during ontogeny, one can measure TPCs for each major life stage and incorporate these into stage-specific ecological models to reveal the life stage most likely to be vulnerable to climate change. Our overall goal is to explicitly examine the assumptions underlying the integration of TPCs with Tb , to develop a framework within which empiricists can place their work within these limitations, and to facilitate the application of thermal physiology to understanding the biological implications of climate change.