Bet hedging in a warming ocean: predictability of maternal environment shapes offspring size variation in marine sticklebacks

Lisa.Shama [ at ]


Bet hedging at reproduction is expected to evolve when mothers are exposed to unpredictable cues for future environmental conditions, whereas transgenerational plasticity (TGP) should be favoured when cues reliably predict the environment offspring will experience. Since climate predictions forecast an increase in both temperature and climate variability, both TGP and bet hedging are likely to become important strategies to mediate climate change effects. Here, the potential to produce variably sized offspring in both warming and unpredictable environments was tested by investigating whether stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) mothers adjusted mean offspring size and within-clutch variation in offspring size in response to experimental manipulation of maternal thermal environment and predictability (alternating between ambient and elevated water temperatures). Reproductive output traits of F1 females were influenced by both temperature and environmental predictability. Mothers that developed at ambient temperature (17 °C) produced larger, but fewer eggs than mothers that developed at elevated temperature (21 °C), implying selection for different-sized offspring in different environments. Mothers in unpredictable environments had smaller mean egg sizes and tended to have greater within-female egg size variability, especially at 21 °C, suggesting that mothers may have dynamically modified the variance in offspring size to spread the risk of incorrectly predicting future environmental conditions. Both TGP and diversification influenced F2 offspring body size. F2 offspring reared at 21 °C had larger mean body sizes if their mother developed at 21 °C, but this TGP benefit was not present for offspring of 17 °C mothers reared at 17 °C, indicating that maternal TGP will be highly relevant for ocean warming scenarios in this system. Offspring of variable environment mothers were smaller but more variable in size than offspring from constant environment mothers, particularly at 21 °C. In summary, stickleback mothers may have used both TGP and diversified bet-hedging strategies to cope with the dual stress of ocean warming and environmental uncertainty.

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DOI 10.1111/gcb.13041

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Shama, L. (2015): Bet hedging in a warming ocean: predictability of maternal environment shapes offspring size variation in marine sticklebacks , Global Change Biology . doi: 10.1111/gcb.13041

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