Climate Adaptation In 2 Generations?

Global climate change is predicted to cause a rise in ocean temperatures by 1.5 to 3 degrees Celsius, as well as a shift to a decreased pH (more acidic water). For many years these predictions have been associated with gloomy the-reefs-and-all-their-fishes-will-die predictions. Those predictions were not unwarranted, as young fish have been shown to be particularly vulnerable to the predicted warmer & more acidic waters. However, a recent article has been published that demonstrates that offspring of anemone fish raised in seawater that is 1.5-3 degrees Celsius warmer and that has a slightly lower pH were not adversely affected by the altered environment. The authors of the study suggest that the parents are influencing the success of the offspring, likely via epigenetic pathways. Epigenetics are likely to be playing a role, but without demonstrating an actual mechanism the idea is just a hypothesis. And it may be that rearing the offspring in the harsher environmental conditions is enough to switch on or off certain genes (that’s basically what epigenetics does–turns certain genes on or off), and there may be no parental effect whatsoever. Either way, it seems clear that there is much more to investigate, but that maybe our climate change models have been a little too harsh on the outcome of the fishes.

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