• Cyprinodon variegatus;
  • ecological epigenetics;
  • maternal effects;
  • sheepshead minnow

Ecology Letters (2011)


Transgenerational plasticity (TGP), a generalisation of more widely studied maternal effects, occurs whenever environmental cues experienced by either parent prior to fertilisation results in a modification of offspring reaction norms. Such effects have been observed in many traits across many species. Despite enormous potential importance—particularly in an era of rapid climate change—TGP in thermal growth physiology has never been demonstrated for vertebrates. We provide the first evidence for thermal TGP in a vertebrate: given sufficient time, sheepshead minnows adaptively program their offspring for maximal growth at the present temperature. The change in growth over a single generation (c. 30%) exceeds the single-generation rate of adaptive evolution by an order of magnitude. If widespread, transgenerational effects on thermal performance may have important implications on physiology, ecology and contemporary evolution, and may significantly alter the extinction risk posed by changing climate.