Although temperature is known to have an important effect on protein synthesis rates and growth in aquatic ectotherms held in the laboratory, little is known about the effects of thermal gradients on natural populations in the field. To address this issue we determined whole-animal fractional rates of protein synthesis (ks) in four dominant species of gammarid amphipods with different distributions along the coasts of Western Europe from arctic to temperate latitudes. Up to three populations of each species were collected in the summer and ks measured within 48 h. Summer ks values were relatively high in the temperate species, Gammarus locusta, from Portugal (48°N) and Wales (53°N) and were maintained across latitudes by the conservation of translational efficiency. In sharp contrast, summer ks remained remarkably low in the boreal/temperate species G. duebeni from Wales, Scotland (58°N) and Tromsø (70°N), probably as a temporary energy saving strategy to ensure survival in rapidly fluctuating environments of the high intertidal. Values for ks increased in acclimated G. duebeni from Scotland and Tromsø showing a lack of compensation with latitude. In the subarctic/boreal species, G. oceanicus, summer ks remained unchanged in Scotland and Tromsø but fell significantly in Svalbard (79°N) at 5°C, despite a slight increase in RNA content. At 79°N, mean ks was 4.5 times higher in the circumpolar species G. setosus than in G. oceanicus due to a doubling in RNA content. The relationship between whole-animal protein synthesis rates and natural thermal gradients is complex, varies between species and appears to be associated with local temperatures and their variability, as well as changes in other environmental factors.