Coral Reefs

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Impact of growing up in a warmer, lower pH future on offspring performance: transgenerational plasticity in a pan-tropical sea urchin

  • Sam KarelitzEmail author
  • Miles D. Lamare
  • Benjamin Mos
  • Hattie De Bari
  • Symon A. Dworjanyn
  • Maria Byrne


Transgenerational plasticity (TGP) may be an important mechanism for marine organisms to acclimate to climate change stressors including ocean warming (OW) and ocean acidification (OA). Conversely, environmental stress experienced by one generation may have detrimental latent effects on subsequent generations. We examined TGP in the embryos and larvae of the pan-tropical sea urchin, Tripneustes gratilla, in response to OA (pH 7.77), OW (+2 °C), or both OA and OW, OAW (+2 °C, pH 7.77) using a parent (F0) generation reared in treatments from the early juvenile to the mature adult, incorporating gonadogenesis and germline differentiation. Embryos and larvae of acclimated parents were reared in all four treatments to the 2-day-old pluteus stage. Larvae from OA and OAW parents were resilient to the effects of acidification, while larvae from OW and OAW parents were more tolerant to warmer temperature (29 °C). Parental acclimation, however, had predominantly negative effects on the size of offspring with reductions in larval arm lengths by as much as 21.4%, while eggs were up to 21.8% smaller in females raised at 29 °C. We highlight the complexity and trade-offs of TGP in this first transgenerational climate change study on a marine macroinvertebrate where the F0 generation was acclimated over their reproductive life.


Transgenerational plasticity Ocean warming Ocean acidification Climate change Acclimation Developmental plasticity 



This research was supported by a grant from the Australian Research Council (MB, SD) and the NSW Environmental Research Trust as well as a PhD scholarship from the University of Otago (SK). The authors would like to thank Eliot Hanrio and Huang-An Li as well as Rich Grainger and Dione Deaker for their assistance in the laboratory. We also thank the National Marine Science Centre at Southern Cross University for their logistical support. This is contribution number 250 of the Sydney Institute of Marine Science.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1053 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Marine ScienceUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  2. 2.National Marine Science CentreSouthern Cross UniversityCoffs HarbourAustralia
  3. 3.School of Medical Sciences and School of Life and Environmental SciencesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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