Transgenerational acclimation of fishes to climate change and ocean acidification

There is growing concern about the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on marine organisms and ecosystems, yet the potential for acclimation and adaptation to these threats is poorly understood. Whereas many short-term experiments report negative biological effects of ocean warming and acidification, new studies show that some marine species have the capacity to acclimate to warmer and more acidic environments across generations. Consequently, transgenerational plasticity may be a powerful mechanism by which populations of some species will be able to adjust to projected climate change. Here, I review recent advances in understanding transgenerational acclimation in fishes. Research over the past 2 to 3 years shows that transgenerational acclimation can partially or fully ameliorate negative effects of warming, acidification, and hypoxia in a range of different species. The molecular and cellular pathways underpinning transgenerational acclimation are currently unknown, but modern genetic methods provide the tools to explore these mechanisms. Despite the potential benefits of transgenerational acclimation, there could be limitations to the phenotypic traits that respond transgenerationally, and trade-offs between life stages, that need to be investigated. Future studies should also test the potential interactions between transgenerational plasticity and genetic evolution to determine how these two processes will shape adaptive responses to environmental change over coming decades.

Munday P. L., 2014. Transgenerational acclimation of fishes to climate change and ocean acidification. F1000 Prime Reports 6:99. Article.

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