Ocean acidification induces distinct transcriptomic responses across life history stages of the sea urchin Heliocidaris erythrogramma

Ocean acidification (OA) from seawater uptake of rising carbon dioxide emissions impairs development in marine invertebrates, particularly in calcifying species. Plasticity in gene expression is thought to mediate many of these physiological effects, but how these responses change across life history stages remains unclear. The abbreviated lecithotrophic development of the sea urchin Heliocidaris erythrogramma provides a valuable opportunity to analyze gene expression responses across a wide range of life history stages, including the benthic, post‐metamorphic juvenile. We measured the transcriptional response to OA in H. erythrogramma at three stages of the life cycle (embryo, larva, and juvenile) in a controlled breeding design. The results reveal a broad range of strikingly stage‐specific impacts of OA on transcription, including changes in the number and identity of affected genes; the magnitude, sign, and variance of their expression response; and the developmental trajectory of expression. The impact of OA on transcription was notably modest in relation to gene expression changes during unperturbed development and much smaller than genetic contributions from parentage. The latter result suggests that natural populations may provide an extensive genetic reservoir of resilience to OA. Taken together, these results highlight the complexity of the molecular response to OA, its substantial life history stage specificity, and the importance of contextualizing the transcriptional response to pH stress in light of normal development and standing genetic variation to better understand the capacity for marine invertebrates to adapt to OA.

Devens H. R., Davidson P. L., Deaker D. J., Smith K. E., Wray G. A. & Byrne M. in press. Ocean acidification induces distinct transcriptomic responses across life history stages of the sea urchin Heliocidaris erythrogramma. Molecular Ecology. Article (subscription required).

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