Evolutionary applications

Can trans-generational experiments be used to enhance species resilience to ocean warming and acidification?

PMID 27695521


Human-assisted, trans-generational exposure to ocean warming and acidification has been proposed as a conservation and/or restoration tool to produce resilient offspring. To improve our understanding of the need for and the efficacy of this approach, we characterized life-history and physiological responses in offspring of the marine polychaete Ophryotrochaxa0labronica exposed to predicted ocean warming (OW: + 3°C), ocean acidification (OA: pH -0.5) and their combination (OWA: + 3°C, pH -0.5), following the exposure of their parents to either control conditions (within-generational exposure) or the same conditions (trans-generational exposure). Trans-generational exposure to OW fully alleviated the negative effects of within-generational exposure to OW on fecundity and egg volume and was accompanied by increased metabolic activity. While within-generational exposure to OA reduced juvenile growth rates and egg volume, trans-generational exposure alleviated the former but could not restore the latter. Surprisingly, exposure to OWA had no negative impacts within- or trans-generationally. Our results highlight the potential for trans-generational laboratory experiments in producing offspring that are resilient to OW and OA. However, trans-generational exposure does not always appear to improve traits and therefore may not be a universally useful tool for all species in the face of global change.