Extrapolating patterns from individuals to populations informs climate vulnerability models, yet biological responses to warming are uncertain at both levels. Here we contrast data on the heating tolerances of fishes from laboratory experiments with abundance patterns of wild populations. We find that heating tolerances in terms of individual physiologies in the lab and abundance in the wild decline with increasing temperature at the same rate. However, at a given acclimation temperature or optimum temperature, tropical individuals and populations have broader heating tolerances than temperate ones. These congruent relationships implicate a tight coupling between physiological and demographic processes underpinning macroecological patterns, and identify vulnerability in both temperate and tropical species.