How does rising atmospheric CO2 affect marine organisms?

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Both Genetic and Non-Genetic Factors Shape Responses of Marine Life to Ocean Warming

Paper Reviewed
Shama, L.N.S., Strobel, A., Mark, F.C. and Wegner, K.M. 2014. Transgenerational plasticity in marine sticklebacks: maternal effects mediate impacts of a warming ocean. Functional Ecology 28: 1482-1493.

In a paper published in Functional Ecology, Shama et al. (2014) write that "empirical evidence is accumulating that marine species might be able to adapt to rapid environmental change if they have sufficient standing variation (the raw material for evolutionary change) and/or phenotypic plasticity to mount fast responses," citing the studies of Munday et al. (2013) and Sunday et al. (2014). And thus encouraged, they go on to explore the roles of genetic and non-genetic inheritance "in shaping the adaptive potential of populations under a warming ocean scenario."

More specifically, the four German scientists describe how they used a combined experimental approach - transgenerational plasticity (TGP) along with quantitative genetics - to partition the relative contributions of maternal and paternal (additive genetic) effects to offspring body size, which is a key fitness component of marine sticklebacks, while investigating a physiological mechanism (mitochondrial respiration capacity) in regard to its potential for underlying whole-organism growth responses over the first 30 days of the young sticklebacks' lives.

Although quite complex, when all was said and done these efforts revealed, in the words of Shama et al., that "TGP can buffer short-term detrimental effects of climate warming and may buy time for genetic adaptation to catch up, therefore markedly contributing to the evolutionary potential and persistence of populations under climate change." And that's good news for this fish and potentially many other marine species if global temperatures begin to rise again.

Munday, P.L., Warner, R.R., Monro, K., Pandolfi, J.M. and Marshall, D.J. 2013. Predicting evolutionary responses to climate change in the sea. Ecology Letters 16: 1488-1500.

Sunday, J.M., Calosi, P., Dupont, S., Munday, P.L., Stillman, J.H. and Reusch, T.B.H. 2014. Evolution in an acidifying ocean. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 29: 117-125.

Posted 11 March 2015