Climate Change and Earth's Animal Life: Hormones to the Rescue!
Meylan, S., Miles, D.B. and Clobert, J. 2012. Hormonally mediated maternal effects, individual strategy and global change. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 367: 1647-1664.
So what does the review of the three researchers reveal? First of all, it describes how the discovery of maternal androgens and glucocorticoids in egg yolks, together with the intra-clutch variation of these hormones (Groothuis and Schwabl, 2008), make it possible for the offspring phenotype to be "manipulated in response to environmental conditions experienced by the female (Weaver et al., 2004)," so that this maternal effect can be considered to be a form of "intergenerational phenotypic (developmental) plasticity," which could well prove crucial "in coping with unpredictable environments." And in this regard, they indicate that "hormones are a critical link between the environment and the genome," in that they "may mediate the expression of phenotypic variation, generate trait integration, shape multivariate trade-offs (Sinervo et al., 2008) and either directly or indirectly shape phenotypic plasticity during ontogeny and later into adulthood (Lessells, 2008)."
In further discussion of the topic, Meylan et al. state that "the hormonal cascades involved in organizational effects during development may be modulated by environmental stressors and the maternal response as given by the duration and magnitude of elevated glucocorticoids." And they go on from there to thoroughly discuss "the phenotypic and population dynamic consequences of prenatal exposure to steroid hormones resulting in context-dependent expression of traits by the offspring," ultimately describing "how hormone-mediated maternal effects may enhance rapid adaptation to changing environmental conditions."
Last of all, the three ecologists write that "females exposed to abiotic stressors during reproduction may alter the phenotypes by manipulation of hormones to the embryos," and they conclude, therefore, that "hormone-mediated maternal effects, which generate phenotypic plasticity, may be one avenue for coping with global change." And a good one it is!
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