Conditions experienced during embryonic development can have lasting effects, even carrying across generations. Most evidence for transgenerational effects comes from studies of female mammals, with much less known about egg-laying organisms or paternally-mediated effects. Here we show that offspring sex can be affected by the incubation temperature its father experiences years earlier. We incubated eggs of an Australian lizard with temperature-dependent sex determination under three thermal regimes; some eggs were given an aromatase inhibitor to produce sons at temperatures that usually produce only daughters. Offspring were raised to maturity and freely interbred within field enclosures. After incubating eggs of the subsequent generation and assigning parentage, we found that the developmental temperature experienced by a male significantly influences the sex of his future progeny. This transgenerational effect on sex ratio may reflect an epigenetic influence on paternally-inherited DNA. Clearly, sex determination in reptiles is far more complex than is currently envisaged.
We are grateful to the commentators for taking the time to respond to our article. Too many interesting and important points have been raised for us to tackle them all in this response, and so in the below we have sought to draw out the major themes. These include problems with both the term ‘ultimate causation’ and the proximate-ultimate causation dichotomy more generally, clarification of the meaning of reciprocal causation, discussion of issues related to the nature of development and phenotypic plasticity and their roles in evolution, and consideration of the need for an extended evolutionary synthesis.
Proximate causation; Ultimate causation; Mayr; Niche construction; Developmental plasticity; Developmental bias; Extended evolutionary synthesis
Life-history theory predicts that individuals should adjust their reproductive effort according to the expected fitness returns on investment. Because sexually selected male traits should provide honest information about male genetic or phenotypic quality, females may invest more when paired with attractive males. However, there is substantial disagreement in the literature whether such differential allocation is a general pattern. Using a comparative meta-regression approach, we show that female birds generally invest more into reproduction when paired with attractive males, both in terms of egg size and number as well as food provisioning. However, whereas females of species with bi-parental care tend to primarily increase the number of eggs when paired with attractive males, females of species with female-only care produce larger, but not more, eggs. These patterns may reflect adaptive differences in female allocation strategies arising from variation in the signal content of sexually selected male traits between systems of parental care. In contrast to reproductive effort, female allocation of immune-stimulants, anti-oxidants and androgens to the egg yolk was not consistently increased when mated to attractive males, which probably reflects the context-dependent costs and benefits of those yolk compounds to females and offspring.
maternal effects; reproductive investment; differential allocation; parental care; birds; phenotypic plasticity
Transgenerational effects of environmental conditions can have several important ecological and evolutionary implications. We conducted a fully factorial experiment manipulating food availability across three generations in the collembolan Folsomia candida, a springtail species that inhabits soil and leaf litter environments which vary in resource availability. Maternal and grandmaternal food availability influenced age at maturity and reproductive output. These effects appear to be cumulative rather than adaptive transgenerational life-history adjustments. Such cumulative effects can profoundly influence eco-evolutionary dynamics in both stable and fluctuating environments.
maternal effect; adaptive plasticity; resource variability
A major goal for ecology and evolution is to understand how abiotic and biotic factors shape patterns of biological diversity. Here, we show that variation in establishment success of nonnative frogs and toads is primarily explained by variation in introduction pathways and climatic similarity between the native range and introduction locality, with minor contributions from phylogeny, species ecology, and life history. This finding contrasts with recent evidence that particular species characteristics promote evolutionary range expansion and reduce the probability of extinction in native populations of amphibians, emphasizing how different mechanisms may shape species distributions on different temporal and spatial scales. We suggest that contemporary changes in the distribution of amphibians will be primarily determined by human-mediated extinctions and movement of species within climatic envelopes, and less by species-typical traits.
Amphibians; colonization; extinction; invasion; life history; range expansion
Induction of altered phenotypes during development in response to environmental input involves epigenetic changes. Phenotypic traits can be passed between generations by a variety of mechanisms, including direct transmission of epigenetic states or by induction of epigenetic marks de novo in each generation. To distinguish between these possibilities we measured epigenetic marks over four generations in rats exposed to a sustained environmental challenge. Dietary energy was increased by 25% at conception in F0 female rats and maintained at this level to generation F3. F0 dams showed higher pregnancy weight gain, but lower weight gain and food intake during lactation than F1 and F2 dams. On gestational day 8, fasting plasma glucose concentration was higher and β-hydroxybutyrate lower in F0 and F1 dams than F2 dams. This was accompanied by decreased phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK) and increased PPARα and carnitine palmitoyl transferase-1 mRNA expression. PEPCK mRNA expression was inversely related to the methylation of specific CpG dinucleotides in its promoter. DNA methyltransferase (Dnmt) 3a2, but not Dnmt1 or Dnmt3b, expression increased and methylation of its promoter decreased from F1 to F3 generations. These data suggest that the regulation of energy metabolism during pregnancy and lactation within a generation is influenced by the maternal phenotype in the preceding generation and the environment during the current pregnancy. The transgenerational effects on phenotype were associated with altered DNA methylation of specific genes in a manner consistent with induction de novo of epigenetic marks in each generation.
To date, the only estimate of the heritability of telomere length in wild
populations comes from humans. Thus, there is a need for analysis of natural
populations with respect to how telomeres evolve.
Here, we show that telomere length is heritable in free-ranging sand lizards,
Lacerta agilis. More importantly, heritability
estimates analysed within, and contrasted between, the sexes are markedly
different; son-sire heritability is much higher relative to daughter-dam
heritability. We assess the effect of paternal age on Telomere Length (TL)
and show that in this species, paternal age at conception is the best
predictor of TL in sons. Neither paternal age per se at
blood sampling for telomere screening, nor corresponding age in sons impact
TL in sons. Processes maintaining telomere length are also associated with
negative fitness effects, most notably by increasing the risk of cancer and
show variation across different categories of individuals (e.g. males vs.
females). We therefore tested whether TL influences offspring survival in
their first year of life. Indeed such effects were present and independent
of sex-biased offspring mortality and offspring malformations.
TL show differences in sex-specific heritability with implications for
differences between the sexes with respect to ongoing telomere selection.
Paternal age influences the length of telomeres in sons and longer telomeres
enhance offspring survival.
Reproductive investment decisions form an integral part of life-history biology. Selection frequently favours plasticity in investment that can generate maternal effects on offspring development. For example, if females differentially allocate resources based on mate attractiveness or quality, this can create a non-genetic link between mate attractiveness and offspring fitness with potential consequences for ecological and evolutionary dynamics. It is therefore important to understand under what conditions differential investment into offspring in relation to male quality is expected to occur and the direction of the effect. Two opposite predictions, increased investment into offspring produced with high-quality mates (differential allocation (DA)) and increased investment with low-quality males (reproductive compensation (RC)) have been suggested but no formal theoretical treatment justifying the assumptions underlying these two hypotheses has been conducted to date. Here, we used a state-based approach to investigate the circumstances under which the variation in mate quality results in differential female investment into offspring and how this interacts with female energetic resource levels. We found that a pattern of increased investment when mating with high-quality mates (i.e. DA) was the most common optimal investment strategy for females in our model. By contrast, increased investment when mating with low-quality mates (i.e. RC) was predicted only when the relative impact of parental investment on offspring quality was low. Finally, we found that the specific pattern of investment in relation to male quality depends on female energetic state, the likelihood for future mating opportunities and the expected future distribution of mate quality. Thus, the female's age and body condition should be important factors mediating DA and RC, which may help to explain the equivocal results of empirical studies.
dynamic program; differential allocation; compensation hypothesis; sexual selection; mate choice; maternal effects
As is the case with any metaphor, parental effects mean different things to different biologists—from developmental induction of novel phenotypic variation to an evolved adaptation, and from epigenetic transference of essential developmental resources to a stage of inheritance and ecological succession. Such a diversity of perspectives illustrates the composite nature of parental effects that, depending on the stage of their expression and whether they are considered a pattern or a process, combine the elements of developmental induction, homeostasis, natural selection, epigenetic inheritance and historical persistence. Here, we suggest that by emphasizing the complexity of causes and influences in developmental systems and by making explicit the links between development, natural selection and inheritance, the study of parental effects enables deeper understanding of developmental dynamics of life cycles and provides a unique opportunity to explicitly integrate development and evolution. We highlight these perspectives by placing parental effects in a wider evolutionary framework and suggest that far from being only an evolved static outcome of natural selection, a distinct channel of transmission between parents and offspring, or a statistical abstraction, parental effects on development enable evolution by natural selection by reliably transferring developmental resources needed to reconstruct, maintain and modify genetically inherited components of the phenotype. The view of parental effects as an essential and dynamic part of an evolutionary continuum unifies mechanisms behind the origination, modification and historical persistence of organismal form and function, and thus brings us closer to a more realistic understanding of life's complexity and diversity.
development; ecology; evolution; maternal effects; heredity
The embryo has traditionally been considered to completely rely upon parental strategies to prevent threats to survival posed by predators and pathogens, such as fungi. However, recent evidence suggests that embryos may have hitherto neglected abilities to counter pathogens. Using artificial fertilization, we show that among-family variation in the number of Saprolegnia-infected eggs and embryos in the moor frog, Rana arvalis, cannot be explained by maternal effects. However, analysed as a within-females effect, sire identity had an effect on the degree of infection. Furthermore, relatively more eggs and embryos were infected when eggs were fertilized by sperm from the same, compared with a different, population. These effects were independent of variation in fertilization success. Thus, there is likely to be a significant genetic component in embryonic resistance to fungal infection in frog embryos. Early developmental stages may show more diverse defences against pathogens than has previously been acknowledged.
fungal infection; maternal effects; pathogen; Rana arvalis; Saprolegnia
In the ageing individual, the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) accelerates with cell senescence. Depending on the heritability of the underlying processes that determine net ROS levels, this may influence ageing per se and its evolutionary direction and rate of change. In order to understand the inheritance and evolution of net ROS levels in free-ranging lizards, we used flow cytometry together with ROS-sensitive fluorogenic probes to measure ROS in lizard blood cells. We measured basal levels of (i) non-specific ROS (superoxide, singlet oxygen, H2O2 and peroxynitrite), (ii) superoxide specifically and (iii) superoxide after CCCP treatment, which elevated ROS production in the mitochondria. The cumulative level of non-specific ROS was higher in adults than juveniles and superoxide level showed high heritability and variability among families. We suggest that the evolution of ROS dynamics may be ROS species specific and perhaps depend on the relative degree of uni- or biparental inheritance of ROS main regulatory pathways.
reactive oxygen species; mitochondrial inheritance; heritability
Sperm storage is a widespread phenomenon across taxa and mating systems but its consequences for central fitness parameters, such as sex ratios, has rarely been investigated. In Australian painted dragon lizards (Ctenophorus pictus), we describe elsewhere that male reproductive success via sperm competition is largely an effect of sperm storage. That is, sperm being stored in the female reproductive tract out-compete more recently inseminated sperm in subsequent ovarian cycles. Here we look at the consequences of such sperm storage for sex allocation in the same species, which has genetic sex determination. We show that stored sperm have a 23% higher probability of producing sons than daughters. Thus, shifts in sex ratio, for example over the reproductive season, can partly be explained by different survival of son-producing sperm or some unidentified female mechanism taking effect during prolonged storage.
sperm storage; sex ratios; lizard
Sex ratio evolution relies on genetic variation in either the phenotypic traits that influence sex ratios or sex-determining mechanisms. However, consistent variation among females in offspring sex ratio is rarely investigated. Here, we show that female painted dragons (Ctenophorus pictus) have highly repeatable sex ratios among clutches within years. A consistent effect of female identity could represent stable phenotypic differences among females or genetic variation in sex-determining mechanisms. Sex ratios were not correlated with female size, body condition or coloration. Furthermore, sex ratios were not influenced by incubation temperature. However, the variation among females resulted in female-biased mean population sex ratios at hatching both within and among years.
sex ratio; sex allocation; TSD; Ctenophorus pictus
In sand lizards (Lacerta agilis), males with more and brighter nuptial coloration also have more DNA fragments visualized in restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis of their major histocompatibility complex class I loci (and, hence, are probably more heterozygous at these loci). Such males produce more viable offspring, with a particularly strong viability effect on daughters. This suggests that females should adjust both their reproductive investment and offspring sex ratio in relation to male coloration (i.e. differential allocation). Our results show that experimental manipulation of partner coloration in the wild results in significantly higher maternal effort and a 10% higher proportion of daughters than sons. This supports the hypothesis that females increase their maternal energetic expenditure and adjust their offspring sex ratio in response to high-quality partners. However, it also suggests that this has probably evolved through natural selection for increased offspring viability (primarily through production of daughters), rather than through increased mate attraction (e.g. sexy sons).
sex allocation; maternal allocation; male attractiveness; major histocompatibility complex; heteromorphic sex chromosomes
High levels of testosterone can benefit individual fitness, for example by increasing growth rate or ornament size, which may result in increased reproductive success. However, testosterone induces costs, such as a suppressed immune system, thereby generating trade-offs between growth or mate acquisition, and immunity. In birds and reptiles, females allocate steroids to their eggs, which may be a mechanism whereby females can influence the phenotype of their offspring. To our knowledge, only the benefits of early androgen exposure have been experimentally investigated to date. However, to understand this phenomenon, the costs also need to be evaluated. We manipulated testosterone levels in eggs of the viviparous common lizard and monitored growth, endurance and post-parturient responses to ectoparasites of the offspring. Testosterone-treated individuals had significantly higher growth rates than controls, but suffered a significant decrease in growth rate when exposed to ticks, whereas the corresponding difference for controls was non-significant. There was no difference in observed parasite load or leucocyte count between manipulated and control offspring. Thus, our results suggest that high testosterone levels during embryonic development have detrimental effects on immune function resulting in reduced growth rate, and that this must be taken into consideration when evaluating the potential adaptive value of maternal androgen allocation to eggs.