Minnows may inherit ideal temperatures

STONY BROOK (US) — Fish can be preconditioned to grow fastest in the same water temperature their parents experienced, say researchers.

This preconditioning, known as transgenerational plasticity (TGP), occurs whenever environmental cues experienced by either parent prior to fertilization change how offspring respond to the environment.

Stephan B. Munch, an adjunct associate professor at Stony Brook University and Santiago Salinas, a PhD candidate, found what they believe to be the first evidence for thermal TGP in a vertebrate.


Munch and Salinas highlight TGP as another potential mechanism for rapid responses to climate shifts. “In light of global climate change, transgenerational effects of temperature may be incredibly important mechanisms for coping with altered thermal regimes,” says Munch.

In the experiment, reported in the journal Ecology Letters, the team collected several hundred adult sheepshead minnows from the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Gulf Breeze, Florida, and brought them to the fish facility at Stony Brook University in August 2009.

To test for thermal TGP in growth, parents were held at several different temperatures and growth of their offspring was subsequently measured. After seven days of parental temperature exposure, offspring growth was the same for all parents. However, after 30-days of temperature exposure, offspring grew best at their parents’ temperature.

“The differences in growth of the offspring, based on whether the parents had experienced that same temperature, were significant,” notes Salinas.

“There is very little known about transgenerational effects on physiology,” says Munch. “I think the most exciting part about the research is that, although there has been a lot of work on transgenerational effects on fish, this is the first demonstration of a transgenerational effect of temperature.

“From a practical point of view, if such effects occur in other species, aquaculture programs could potentially make large gains by manipulating the parental environment before breeding. There are good reasons to believe that these effects will occur in many species, but we’ve only just started looking.”

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