Maternal effects may act as an adaptation mechanism for copepods facing pH and temperature changes

Acidification of the seas, caused by increased dissolution of CO2 into surface water, and global warming challenge the adaptation mechanisms of marine organisms. In boreal coastal environments, temperature and pH vary greatly seasonally, but sometimes also rapidly within hours due to upwelling events. We studied if copepod zooplankton living in a fluctuating environment are tolerant to climate change effects predicted for 2100, i.e., a temperature increase of 3°C and a pH decrease of 0.4. Egg production of the copepod Acartia sp. was followed over five consecutive days at four temperature and pH conditions (17°C/ambient pH; 17°C/low pH; 20°C/ambient pH; 20°C/low pH). Egg production was higher in treatments with warmer temperature but the increase was smaller when copepods were simultaneously exposed to warmer temperature and lowered pH. To reveal if maternal effects are important in terms of adaptation to a changing environment, we conducted an egg transplantation experiment, where the produced eggs were moved to a different environment and egg hatching was monitored for three days. When pH changed between the egg production and hatching conditions, it resulted in lower hatching success, but the effect was diminished over the course of the experiment possibly due to improved maternal provisioning. Warmer egg production temperature induced a positive maternal effect and increased the egg hatching rate. Warmer hatching temperature resulted also in earlier hatching. However, the temperature effects appear to be dependent on the ambient sea temperature. Our preliminary results indicate that maternal effects are an important mechanism in the face of environmental change.

Vehmaa A., Brutemark A., Engström-Öst J., 2012. Maternal effects may act as an adaptation mechanism for copepods facing pH and temperature changes. PLoS ONE 7(10): e48538. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048538. Article.

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