Transgenerational acclimation of a coral reef fish to ocean warming

JM Donelson (1,2), DJ Booth (1) and PL Munday (2,3)

  1. Centre for Environmental Sustainability, School of Life Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney, Broadway, NSW 2007, Australia,
  1. College of Marine and Environmental Science, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld 4811, Australia,
  1. ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld 4811, Australia

Predicting the impacts of climate change to biological systems relies in part on an understanding of the ability for species to acclimate to the projected environmental change through phenotypic plasticity. Determining the effects of higher temperatures on individual performance is made more complex by the potential for environmental conditions experienced in previous and current generations to independently affect phenotypic responses to high temperatures. We used a model coral reef fish to investigate the influence of thermal conditions experienced by two generations to affect aerobic metabolic performance and reproductive ability. Significant improvement in aerobic capacity was observed with two generations reared at projected elevated conditions. For reproductive and offspring attributes, an interaction between the effect of developmental and reproductive thermal conditions occurred. When both the current (F2) and previous generation (F1) developed at +3.0°C greater than present-day they did not reproduce at elevated, but did at control summer conditions. In contrast, fish that experience a more gradual increase in temperature over generations, +1.5°C in the first generation and +3.0°C in the second, showed enhanced capacity to reproduce at elevated temperatures. Our results suggest that transgenerational effects differ depending on the trait measured, the level of thermal change and during what generation the thermal change is experienced.