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Constraints, independence, and evolution of thermal plasticity: Probing genetic architecture of long- and short-term thermal acclimation

Mitigating thermal stress through evolutionary adaptation or physiological plasticity is critical for species’ persistence in changing climates. Sparse knowledge of genetic and physiological architectures of thermal plasticity hampers our ability to predict organismal resilience to climate change. Understanding the independence of short- and long-term plasticity and constraints of basal thermotolerance on plasticity is important for understanding responses to climate change.

Alison R. Gerken, Olivia C. Eller , Daniel A. Hahn, and Theodore J. Morgan

EVOLUTION

 

Significance

 

Mitigating thermal stress through evolutionary adaptation or physiological plasticity is critical for species’ persistence in changing climates. Sparse knowledge of genetic and physiological architectures of thermal plasticity hampers our ability to predict organismal resilience to climate change. Understanding the independence of short- and long-term plasticity and constraints of basal thermotolerance on plasticity is important for understanding responses to climate change. We show heritable genetic variation for basal cold tolerance and plasticity in a midlatitude Drosophila melanogaster population. High long-term plasticity predicted high short-term plasticity, and basal cold tolerance constrained both plasticity measures. There was no overlap in SNPs associated with either plasticity type. Overlapping molecular function of SNPs suggests shared physiology between long- and short-term plasticity, despite distinct genetic architectures.

 

Abstract

 

Seasonal and daily thermal variation can limit species distributions because of physiological tolerances. Low temperatures are particularly challenging for ectotherms, which use both basal thermotolerance and acclimation, an adaptive plastic response, to mitigate thermal stress. Both basal thermotolerance and acclimation are thought to be important for local adaptation and persistence in the face of climate change. However, the evolutionary independence of basal and plastic tolerances remains unclear. Acclimation can occur over longer (seasonal) or shorter (hours to days) time scales, and the degree of mechanistic overlap is unresolved. Using a midlatitude population of Drosophila melanogaster, we show substantial heritable variation in both short- and long-term acclimation. Rapid cold hardening (short-term plasticity) and developmental acclimation (long-term plasticity) are positively correlated, suggesting shared mechanisms. However, there are independent components of these traits, because developmentally acclimated flies respond positively to short-term acclimation. A strong negative correlation between basal cold tolerance and developmental acclimation suggests that basal cold tolerance may constrain developmental acclimation, whereas a weaker negative correlation between basal cold tolerance and short-term acclimation suggests less constraint. Using genome-wide association mapping, we show the genetic architecture of rapid cold hardening and developmental acclimation responses are nonoverlapping at the SNP and corresponding gene level. However, genes associated with each trait share functional similarities, including genes involved in apoptosis and autophagy, cytoskeletal and membrane structural components, and ion binding and transport. These results indicate substantial opportunity for short-term and long-term acclimation responses to evolve separately from each other and for short-term acclimation to evolve separately from basal thermotolerance.

 

See http://www.pnas.org/content/112/14/4399.abstract

PNAS April 7, 2015 vol. 112 no. 14 4399-4404

 

Fig. 1. RCH capacity for flies reared at 25 °C. (Upper) Reaction norms for survivorship proportion for values used to calculate RCH capacity: survivorship after 1 h at −6 °C and following pretreatment for 2 h at 4 °C before 1 h at −6 °C. (Left) Ten negative RCH capacity scores. (Center) Ten average RCH scores. (Right) Ten of the most positive RCH scores, i.e., most extreme improvement in survivorship following pretreatment. (Lower) The histogram shows the distribution of RCH acclimation capacity across the DGRP.

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