Investigating the response of sea urchin early developmental stages to multiple stressors related to climate change

Within climate change biology, the red sea urchin Mesocentrotus franciscanus has
remained relatively overlooked despite its sizeable ecological and economic importance, particularly within the context of multi-stressor effects. I assembled and described a developmental transcriptome for M. franciscanus, providing a useful molecular resource with which to study this organism. I then examined both the physiological and molecular mechanisms that underlie the response of early developmental stage (EDS) M. franciscanus to different combinations of pH levels and temperatures that represented ecologically
relevant present and future ocean conditions. Elevated pCO2 levels decreased embryo body size, but at the prism embryo stage, warmer temperatures helped to offset this via an increase in body size. Warmer temperatures also slightly increased the thermal tolerance of prism stage embryos. Neither pCO2 nor temperature stressors affected prism metabolic rate as measured by rate of oxygen consumption. Gene expression patterns differed by developmental stage and by temperature exposure. Elevated temperatures led to an upregulation of cellular stress response genes. Under colder temperatures, the embryos
exhibited an up-regulation of epigenetic genes related to histone modifications.
There was a comparatively minimal transcriptomic response to different pCO2 levels. Examining the physiological and molecular responses of EDS M. franciscanus to multiple stressors provided much needed information regarding a species of significant ecological and economic value by examining its capacity to respond to stressors related to climate change and ocean acidification under an ecologically relevant context.

I also investigated the role of transgenerational plasticity (TGP), in which the
environmental conditions experienced by parents affect progeny phenotypes. TGP may provide a valuable mechanism by which organisms can keep pace with relatively rapid environmental change. Adult S. purpuratus were conditioned to two divergent, but ecologically relevant pH levels and temperatures throughout gametogenesis. The adults were spawned and crossed, and their progeny were raised under different pH levels to determine if maternal conditioning impacted the response of the progeny to low pH stress. I investigated maternal provisioning, a mechanism of TGP, by measuring the size, total protein content, and total lipid content of the eggs that they produced. Acclimatization of the
adult urchins to simulated upwelling conditions (combined low pH, low temperature) appeared to increase maternal provisioning of lipids to the eggs but did not affect egg size or protein content. I also investigated the physiology and gene expression of progeny responding to low pH stress, which were affected more by maternal conditioning than by offspring pH treatment. Maternal conditioning to simulated upwelling resulted in larger offspring body sizes. Additionally, I found the progeny expressed differential regulatory
patterns of genes related to epigenetic modifications, ion transport, metabolic processes and ATP production. This work showed that adult exposure to upwelling conditions can improve the resilience of EDS progeny to low pH levels.

Wong J. M., 2019. Investigating the response of sea urchin early developmental stages to multiple stressors related to climate change. PhD thesis, University of California Santa Barbara. Thesis (subscription required).

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