Adaptive maternal behavioral plasticity and developmental programming mitigate the transgenerational effects of temperature in dung beetles

Published online: 
14 March 2018

Anna L. M. Macagno, Eduardo E. Zattara, Onye Ezeakudo, Armin P. Moczek, Cristina C. Ledón-Rettig

Phenotypic plasticity allows organisms to cope with rapid environmental change. Yet exactly when during ontogeny plastic responses are elicited, whether plastic responses produced in one generation influence phenotypic variation and fitness in subsequent generations, and the role of plasticity in shaping population divergences, remains overall poorly understood. Here, we use the dung beetle Onthophagus taurus to assess plastic responses to temperature at several life stages bridging three generations and compare these responses across three recently diverged populations. We find that beetles reared at hotter temperatures grow less than those reared at mild temperatures, and that this attenuated growth has transgenerational consequences by reducing offspring size and survival in subsequent generations. However, we also find evidence that plasticity may mitigate these consequences in two ways: 1) mothers modify the temperature of their offspring's developmental environment via behavioral plasticity and 2) in one population, offspring exhibit accelerated growth when exposed to hot temperatures during very early development (‘developmental programming’). Lastly, our study reveals that offspring responses to temperature diverged among populations in fewer than 100 generations, possibly in response to range-specific changes in climatic or social conditions.

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