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Thermal adaptation and acclimation of ectotherms from differing aquatic climates


Correspondence: Shawn R. Narum, Fax: 208 837 6047; E-mail:


To elucidate the mechanisms of thermal adaptation and acclimation in ectothermic aquatic organisms from differing climates, we used a common-garden experiment for thermal stress to investigate the heat shock response of redband trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss gairdneri) from desert and montane populations. Evidence for adaptation was observed as expression of heat shock genes in fish from the desert population was more similar to control (unstressed) fish and significantly different ( 0.05) from those from the montane population, while F1 crosses were intermediate. High induction of heat shock proteins (Hsps) in the montane strain appeared to improve short-term survival during first exposure to high water temperatures, but high physiological costs of Hsp production may have led to lower long-term survival. In contrast, the desert strain had significantly lower heat shock response than the montane fish and F1 crosses, suggesting that these desert fish have evolved alternative mechanisms to deal with thermal stress that provide better balance of physiological costs. Genomewide tests of greater than 10 000 SNPs found multiple SNPs that were significantly associated with survival under thermal stress, including Hsp47 which consistently appeared as a strong candidate gene for adaption to desert climates. Candidate SNPs identified in this study are prime targets to screen more broadly across this species' range to predict the potential for adaptation under scenarios of climate change. These results demonstrate that aquatic species can evolve adaptive responses to thermal stress and provide insight for understanding how climate change may impact ectotherms.

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