Combined stress of ocean acidification and warming influence survival and drives differential gene expression patterns in the Antarctic pteropod, Limacina helicina antarctica

The ecologically important thecosome pteropods in the Limacina spp. complex have recently been the focus of studies examining the impacts global change factors – e.g., ocean acidification (OA) and ocean warming (OW) – on their performance and physiology. This focus is driven by conservation concerns where the health of pteropod populations is threatened by the high susceptibility of their shells to dissolution in low aragonite saturation states associated with OA and how coupling of these stressors may push pteropods past the limits of physiological plasticity. In this manipulation experiment, we describe changes in the transcriptome of the Antarctic pteropod, Limacina helicina antarctica, to these combined stressors. The conditions used in the laboratory treatments met or exceeded those projected for the Southern Ocean by the year 2100. We made two general observations regarding the outcome of the data: (1) Temperature was more influential than pH in terms of changing patterns of gene expression, and (2) these Antarctic pteropods appeared to have a significant degree of transcriptomic plasticity to respond to acute abiotic stress in the laboratory. In general, differential gene expression was observed amongst the treatments; here, for example, transcripts associated with maintaining protein structure and cell proliferation were up-regulated. To disentangle the effects of OA and OW, we used a weighted gene co-expression network analysis to explore patterns of change in the transcriptome. This approach identified gene networks associated with OW that were enriched for transcripts proposed to be involved in increasing membrane fluidity at warmer temperatures. Together these data provide evidence that L.h.antarctica has a limited capacity to acclimate to the combined conditions of OA and OW used in this study. This reduced scope of acclimation argues for continued study of how adaptation to polar aquatic environments may limit the plasticity of present-day populations in responding to future environmental change.

Johnson K. M. & Hofmann G. E., 2020. Combined stress of ocean acidification and warming influence survival and drives differential gene expression patterns in the Antarctic pteropod, Limacina helicina antarctica. Conservation Physiology: 8 (1): coaa013. doi: 10.1093/conphys/coaa013. Article.

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