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Climate Change and Earth's Animal Life: Hormones to the Rescue!
Volume 15, Number 36: 5 September 2012

"In the face of rapid environmental change," in the words of Meylan et al. (2012), "populations may persist, given sufficient time, by dispersal and shifting distributions that track their original environment (Holt, 1990; Parmesan, 2006)." In addition, they say that "a second compensatory response is adaptation by microevolution to new ecological conditions," or what they describe as thermal adaptation (Chown et al., 2010; Sinervo et al., 2010; Huey et al., 2012)." Yet a third means by which they say that "individuals within a population may persist in rapidly changing environments" is by "behavioral or physiological compensation, i.e. phenotypic plasticity (Parmesan, 2006; Charmantier et al., 2008; Canale and Henry, 2010; Fuller et al., 2010)," which phenomenon may entail "within-individual plasticity (i.e. acclimatization within or across years), genotype x environment interactions (i.e. the reaction norm of a trait to the current environment) or developmental plasticity (Visser, 2008)." And in their review of the subject of phenotypic plasticity, Meylan et al. (2012) focus on "the role of hormonally mediated maternal effects in inducing phenotypic plasticity as a response to rising temperatures and extreme climatic events," citing the earlier work of Marquis et al. (2008).

So what does the review of the three researchers reveal? First of all, it describes how the discovery of maternal androgens and glucocorticoids in egg yolks, together with the intra-clutch variation of these hormones (Groothuis and Schwabl, 2008), make it possible for the offspring phenotype to be "manipulated in response to environmental conditions experienced by the female (Weaver et al., 2004)," so that this maternal effect can be considered to be a form of "intergenerational phenotypic (developmental) plasticity," which could well prove crucial "in coping with unpredictable environments." And in this regard, they indicate that "hormones are a critical link between the environment and the genome," in that they "may mediate the expression of phenotypic variation, generate trait integration, shape multivariate trade-offs (Sinervo et al., 2008) and either directly or indirectly shape phenotypic plasticity during ontogeny and later into adulthood (Lessells, 2008)."

In further discussion of the topic, Meylan et al. state that "the hormonal cascades involved in organizational effects during development may be modulated by environmental stressors and the maternal response as given by the duration and magnitude of elevated glucocorticoids." And they go on from there to thoroughly discuss "the phenotypic and population dynamic consequences of prenatal exposure to steroid hormones resulting in context-dependent expression of traits by the offspring," ultimately describing "how hormone-mediated maternal effects may enhance rapid adaptation to changing environmental conditions."

Last of all, the three ecologists write that "females exposed to abiotic stressors during reproduction may alter the phenotypes by manipulation of hormones to the embryos," and they conclude, therefore, that "hormone-mediated maternal effects, which generate phenotypic plasticity, may be one avenue for coping with global change." And a good one it is!

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso

Canale, C.I. and Henry, P.Y. 2010. Adaptive phenotypic plasticity and resilience of vertebrates to increasing climatic unpredictability. Climate Research 43: 135-147.

Charmantier, A., McCleery, R.H., Cole, L.R., Perrins, C., Kruuk, L.E.B. and Sheldon, B.C. 2008. Adaptive phenotypic plasticity in response to climate change in a wild bird population. Science 320: 800-803.

Chown, S.L., Hoffman, A.A., Kristensen, T.N., Angilletta Jr., M.J., Stenseth, N.C. and Pertoldi, C. 2010. Adapting to climate change: a perspective from evolutionary physiology. Climate Research 43: 3-15.

Fuller, A., Dawson, T., Helmuth, B., Hetem, R.S., Mitchell, D. and Maloney, S.K. 2010. Physiological mechanisms in coping with climate change. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 83: 713-720.

Groothuis, T.G.G. and Schwabl, H. 2008. Hormone-mediated maternal effects in birds: mechanisms matter but what do we know of them? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 363: 1647-1661.

Holt, R.D. 1990. The microevolutionary consequences of climate change. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 5: 311-315.

Huey, R.B., Kearney, M.R., Krockenberger, A., Holtum, J.A.M., Jess, M. and Williams, S.E. 2012. Predicting organismal vulnerability to climate warming: rules of behavior, physiology, and adaptation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 367: 1665-1679.

Lessells, C.M. 2008. Neuroendocrine control of life histories: what do we need to know to understand the evolution of phenotypic plasticity? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Soceity B 363: 1589-1598.

Marquis, O., Massot, M. and Le Galliard, J.F. 2008. Intergenerational effects of climate generate cohort variation in lizard reproductive performance. Ecology 89: 2575-2583.

Meylan, S., Miles, D.B. and Clobert, J. 2012. Hormonally mediated maternal effects, individual strategy and global change. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 367: 1647-1664.

Parmesan, C. 2006. Ecological and evolutionary responses to recent climate change. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 37: 637-669.

Sinervo, B., Clobert, J., Miles, D.B., McAdam, A.G. and Lancaster, L.T. 2008. The role of pleiotropy versus signaler-receiver gene epistasis in life history trade-offs: dissecting the genomic architecture of organismal design in social systems. Heredity 101: 197-211.

Sinervo, B., Mendez-de-la-Cruz, F., Miles, D.B., Heulin, B., Bastiaans, E., Cruz, M. V-S., Lara-Resendiz, R., Martinez-Mendez, N., Calderon-Espinosa., M.L., Meza-Lazaro, R.N., Gadsden, H., Avila, L.J., Morando, M., De la Riva, I.J., Sepulveda, P.V., Rocha, C.F.D., Ibarguengoytia, N., Puntriano, C.A., Massot, M., Lepetz, V., Oksanen, T.A., Chapple, D.G., Bauer, A.M., Branch, W.R., Clobert, J. and Sites Fr., J.W. 2010. Erosion of lizard diversity by climate change and altered thermal niches. Science 328: 894-899.

Visser, M.E. 2008. Keeping up with a warming world: assessing the rate of adaptation to climate change. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 275: 649-659.

Weaver, I.C.G., Cervoni, N., Champagne, F.A., D'Alessio, A.C., Sharma, S., Seckl, J.R., Symov, S., Szyf, M. and Meaney, M.J. 2004. Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior. Nature Neuroscience 7: 847-854.