Maternal experience with predation risk influences genome-wide embryonic gene expression in threespined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus)
ABSTRACT: Purpose: The goal of this study was to compare gene expression in whole embryos to identify transcriptomic changes that result from maternal exposure to predation risk. Methods: Whole embryo mRNA profiles of 3 day post-fertilizationstickleback embrosof mothers exposed to simulated predation risk and control embryos were generated by RNA-sequencing of pooled embryos using Illumina Hiseq2000. The sequence reads that passed quality filters were aligned to the stickleback reference genome and analyzed at the gene level (EdgeR) and at the transcript level (Cufflinks/Cuffdiff). Subsets of embryos were also measured for embryo length and eye diameter, and data were analyzed with a general linear model (SPSS). Results: We mapped ~22 million sequence reads per sample to the stickleback reference genome (BROADS1, Ensembl database version 71.1, Feb 2006) and identified 17440 transcripts with the Tophat workflow. Differential expression analysis using both EdgeR and Cufflinks/Cuffdiff identified 455 transcripts were differentially expressed in embryos of mothers exposed to simulated predation risk as compared to control embryos, with an FDR <0.05 (Cuffdiff) or <0.10 (EdgeR). Gene ontology and pathway analysis (DAVID, IPA) of the differentially expressed gene list revealed enrichment of genes involved in growth, metabolism, neurogenesis, and epigenetics. Embryos of mothers exposed to predation risk had elevated expression of growth and metabolism genes and were also larger than control embryos, suggesting at least some of the genes differentially expressed in this study are involved in the transfer of maternal experience to offspring. Conclusions: Our results suggest that early stickleback embryos respond to maternal exposure to predation risk via changes in gene expression, and a general acceleration of the developmental program. Further study is needed to elucidate the myriad molecular interactions between genes that are differentially-regulated as a result of maternal exposure to predation risk and to understand their relationships to previously-observed maternal effects in this system. Whole embryo mRNA profiles of 3dpf stickleback embryos of mothers exposed to simulated predation risk [E] and control mothers [C] were generated by barcoded, multiplexed high-throughput RNA-sequencing on Illumina Hiseq-2000.
Project description:There is growing evidence for nongenetic effects of maternal experience on offspring. For example, previous studies have shown that female threespined stickleback fish (Gasterosteus aculeatus) exposed to predation risk produce offspring with altered behavior, metabolism and stress physiology. Here, we investigate the effect of maternal exposure to predation risk on the embryonic transcriptome in sticklebacks. Using RNA-sequencing we compared genome-wide transcription in three day post-fertilization embryos of predator-exposed and control mothers. There were hundreds of differentially expressed transcripts between embryos of predator-exposed mothers and embryos of control mothers including several non-coding RNAs. Gene Ontology analysis revealed biological pathways involved in metabolism, epigenetic inheritance, and neural proliferation and differentiation that differed between treatments. Interestingly, predation risk is associated with an accelerated life history in many vertebrates, and several of the genes and biological pathways that were identified in this study suggest that maternal exposure to predation risk accelerates the timing of embryonic development. Consistent with this hypothesis, embryos of predator-exposed mothers were larger than embryos of control mothers. These findings point to some of the molecular mechanisms that might underlie maternal effects.
Project description:Predation often has consistent effects on prey behavior and morphology, but whether the physiological mechanisms underlying these effects show similarly consistent patterns across different populations remains an open question. In vertebrates, predation risk activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and there is growing evidence that activation of the maternal HPA axis can have intergenerational consequences via, for example, maternally-derived steroids in eggs. Here, we investigated how predation risk affects a suite of maternally-derived steroids in threespine stickleback eggs across nine Alaskan lakes that vary in whether predatory trout are absent, native, or have been stocked within the last 25 years. Using liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectroscopy (LC-MS/MS), we detected 20 steroids within unfertilized eggs. Factor analysis suggests that steroids covary within and across steroid classes (i.e. glucocorticoids, progestogens, sex steroids), emphasizing the modularity and interconnectedness of the endocrine response. Surprisingly, egg steroid profiles were not significantly associated with predator regime, although they were more variable when predators were absent compared to when predators were present, with either native or stocked trout. Despite being the most abundant steroid, cortisol was not consistently associated with predation regime. Thus, while predators can affect steroids in adults, including mothers, the link between maternal stress and embryonic development is more complex than a simple one-to-one relationship between the population-level predation risk experienced by mothers and the steroids mothers transfer to their eggs.
Project description:Predators have both direct, consumptive effects on their prey and non-lethal effects on physiology and behavior, including reproductive decisions, with cascading effects on prey ecology and evolution. Here, we experimentally tested such non-lethal effects of exposure to increased predation risk on clutch size, egg mass, and the concentration of yolk steroid hormones in the yellow-legged gull Larus michahellis. We simulated increased predation risk by displaying stuffed predators (adult fox Vulpes vulpes, and adult buzzard Buteo buteo) to breeding adults before egg laying. The concentration of corticosterone, which has been shown to increase under exposure to maternal predation risk in other species, and of testosterone did not differ between eggs from mothers exposed to the predators and eggs from control mothers (i.e., eggs exposed to a novel object of similar size and position to the stuffed predators). The concentration of the two hormones negatively covaried. Clutch size did not vary according to experimental treatment, whereas egg mass was markedly larger in clutches from nests exposed to predators than in clutches from control nests. By increasing egg mass, mothers may reduce the risk of cooling of the eggs when incubation is impeded by predators, boost energy reserves, reduce post-natal detectability caused by food solicitation, and/or enhance development at hatching, thus increasing the chances of offspring survival. In general, our results are inconsistent with most of the few previous studies on similar non-lethal predator effects and suggest that such effects may vary among species according to ecological conditions, social behavior, and developmental mode.
Project description:Predation risk is a strong selective force shaping prey morphology, life history and behavior. Anti-predator behaviors may be innate, learned or both but little is known about the transgenerational behavioral effects of maternally experienced predation risk. We examined intraguild predation (IGP) risk-induced maternal effects on offspring anti-predator behavior, including learning, in the predatory mite Phytoseiulus persimilis. We exposed predatory mite mothers during egg production to presence or absence of the IG predator Amblyseius andersoni and assessed whether maternal stress affects the anti-predator behavior, including larval learning ability, of their offspring as protonymphs. Protonymphs emerging from stressed or unstressed mothers, and having experienced IGP risk as larvae or not, were subjected to choice situations with and without IG predator traces. Predator-experienced protonymphs from stressed mothers were the least active and acted the boldest in site choice towards predator cues. We argue that the attenuated response of the protonymphs to predator traces alone represents optimized risk management because no immediate risk existed. Such behavioral adjustment could reduce the inherent fitness costs of anti-predator behaviors. Overall, our study suggests that P. persimilis mothers experiencing IGP risk may prime their offspring to behave more optimally in IGP environments.
Project description:Learning is an important form of phenotypic plasticity that allows organisms to adjust their behaviour to the environment. An individual's learning performance can be affected by its mother's environment. For example, mothers exposed to stressors, such as restraint and forced swimming, often produce offspring with impaired learning performance. However, it is unclear whether there are maternal effects on offspring learning when mothers are exposed to ecologically relevant stressors, such as predation risk. Here, we examined whether maternal predator-exposure affects adult offsprings' learning of a discrimination task in threespined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus). Mothers were either repeatedly chased by a model predator (predator-exposed) or not (unexposed) while producing eggs. Performance of adult offspring from predator-exposed and unexposed mothers was assessed in a discrimination task that paired a particular coloured chamber with a food reward. Following training, all offspring learned the colour-association, but offspring of predator-exposed mothers located the food reward more slowly than offspring of unexposed mothers. This pattern was not driven by initial differences in exploratory behaviour. These results demonstrate that an ecologically relevant stressor (predation risk) can induce maternal effects on offspring learning, and perhaps behavioural plasticity more generally, that last into adulthood.
Project description:Adaptive maternal responses to stressful environments before young are born can follow two non-exclusive pathways: either the mother reduces current investment in favor of future investment, or influences offspring growth and development in order to fit offspring phenotype to the stressful environment. Inducing such developmental cues, however, may be risky if the environment changes meanwhile, resulting in maladapted offspring. Here we test the effects of a predator-induced maternal effect in a predator-free postnatal environment. We manipulated perceived predation-risk for breeding female great tits by exposing them to stuffed models of either a predatory bird or a non-predatory control. Offspring were raised either in an environment matching the maternal one by exchanging whole broods within a maternal treatment group, or in a mismatching environment by exchanging broods among the maternal treatments. Offspring growth depended on the matching of the two environments. While for offspring originating from control treated mothers environmental mismatch did not significantly change growth, offspring of mothers under increased perceived predation risk grew faster and larger in matching conditions. Offspring of predator treated mothers fledged about one day later when growing under mismatching conditions. This suggests costs paid by the offspring if mothers predict environmental conditions wrongly.
Project description:Predation is a strong selective pressure generating morphological, physiological and behavioural responses in organisms. As predation risk is often higher during juvenile stages, antipredator defences expressed early in life are paramount to survival. Maternal effects are an efficient pathway to produce such defences. We investigated whether maternal exposure to predator cues during gestation affected juvenile morphology, behaviour and dispersal in common lizards (Zootoca vivipara). We exposed 21 gravid females to saurophagous snake cues for one month while 21 females remained unexposed (i.e. control). We measured body size, preferred temperature and activity level for each neonate, and released them into semi-natural enclosures connected to corridors in order to measure dispersal. Offspring from exposed mothers grew longer tails, selected lower temperatures and dispersed thrice more than offspring from unexposed mothers. Because both tail autotomy and altered thermoregulatory behaviour are common antipredator tactics in lizards, these results suggest that mothers adjusted offspring phenotype to risky natal environments (tail length) or increased risk avoidance (dispersal). Although maternal effects can be passive consequences of maternal stress, our results strongly militate for them to be an adaptive antipredator response that may increase offspring survival prospects.
Project description:Changing environments, whether through natural or anthropogenic causes, can lead to the loss of some selective pressures ('relaxed selection') and possibly even the reinstatement of selective agents not encountered for many generations ('reversed selection'). We examined the outcome of relaxed and reversed selection in the adaptive radiation of the threespine stickleback fish, Gasterostues aculeatus L., in which isolated populations encounter a variety of predation regimes. Oceanic stickleback, which represent the ancestral founders of the freshwater radiation, encounter many piscivorous fish. Derived, freshwater populations, on the other hand, vary with respect to the presence of predators. Some populations encounter native salmonids, whereas others have not experienced predation by large fish in thousands of generations (relax-selected populations). Some relax-selected populations have had sport fish, including rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss, introduced within the past several decades (reverse-selected). We examined the behavioural responses of stickleback from three populations of each type to simulated attacks by trout and birds to determine whether relaxed and reversed selection has led to divergence in behaviour, and whether this divergence was predator specific. Fish from trout-free populations showed weak responses to trout, as predicted, but these responses were similar to those of oceanic (ancestral) populations. Fish from populations that co-occur with trout, whether native or introduced, showed elevated antipredator responses, indicating that in freshwater, trout predation selects for enhanced antipredator responses, which can evolve extremely rapidly. Comparison of laboratory-reared and wild-caught individuals suggests a combination of learned and genetic components to this variation. Responses to a model bird flyover were weakly linked to predation environment, indicating that the loss of predation by trout may partially influence the evolution of responses to birds. Our results reject the hypothesis that the consistent presence of predatory birds has been sufficient to maintain responses to piscivorous fish under periods of relaxed selection.
Project description:Differential allocation occurs when individuals adjust their reproductive investment based on their partner's traits. However, it remains unknown whether animals differentially allocate based on their partner's past experiences with predation risk. If animals can detect a potential mate's experience with predators, this might inform them about the stress level of their potential mate, the likelihood of parental effects in offspring and/or the dangers present in the environment. Using threespined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), we examined whether a female's previous experience with being chased by a model predator while yolking eggs affects male mating effort and offspring care. Males displayed fewer conspicuous courtship behaviours towards females that had experienced predation risk in the past compared with unexposed females. This differential allocation extended to how males cared for the resulting offspring of these matings: fathers provided less parental care to offspring of females that had experienced predation risk in the past. Our results show for the first time, to our knowledge, that variation among females in their predator encounters can contribute to behavioural variation among males in courtship and parental care, even when males themselves do not encounter a predator. These results, together with previous findings, suggest that maternal predator exposure can influence offspring development both directly and indirectly, through how it affects father care.
Project description:Offspring from females that experience stressful conditions during reproduction often exhibit altered phenotypes and many of these effects are thought to arise owing to increased exposure to maternal glucocorticoids. While embryos of placental vertebrates are known to regulate exposure to maternal glucocorticoids via placental steroid metabolism, much less is known about how and whether egg-laying vertebrates can control their steroid environment during embryonic development. We tested the hypothesis that threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) embryos can regulate exposure to maternal steroids via active efflux of maternal steroids from the egg. Embryos rapidly (within 72 h) cleared intact steroids, but blocking ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporters inhibited cortisol clearance. Remarkably, this efflux of cortisol was sufficient to prevent a transcriptional response of embryos to exogenous cortisol. Taken together, these findings suggest that, much like their placental counterparts, developing fish embryos can actively regulate their exposure to maternal cortisol. These findings highlight the fact that even in egg-laying vertebrates, the realized exposure to maternal steroids is mediated by both maternal and embryonic processes and this has important implications for understanding how maternal stress influences offspring development.