Limitations of cross- and multigenerational plasticity for marine invertebrates faced with global climate change

Document Type


Date of Original Version



Although cross generation (CGP) and multigenerational (MGP) plasticity have been identified as mechanisms of acclimation to global change, the weight of evidence indicates that parental conditioning over generations is not a panacea to rescue stress sensitivity in offspring. For many species, there were no benefits of parental conditioning. Even when improved performance was observed, this waned over time within a generation or across generations and fitness declined. CGP and MGP studies identified resilient species with stress tolerant genotypes in wild populations and selected family lines. Several bivalves possess favourable stress tolerance and phenotypically plastic traits potentially associated with genetic adaptation to life in habitats where they routinely experience temperature and/or acidification stress. These traits will be important to help ‘climate proof’ shellfish ventures. Species that are naturally stress tolerant and those that naturally experience a broad range of environmental conditions are good candidates to provide insights into the physiological and molecular mechanisms involved in CGP and MGP. It is challenging to conduct ecologically relevant global change experiments over the long times commensurate with the pace of changing climate. As a result, many studies present stressors in a shock-type exposure at rates much faster than projected scenarios. With more gradual stressor introduction over longer experimental durations and in context with conditions species are currently acclimatized and/or adapted to, the outcomes for sensitive species might differ. We highlight the importance to understand primordial germ cell development and the timing of gametogenesis with respect to stressor exposure. Although multigenerational exposure to global change stressors currently appears limited as a universal tool to rescue species in the face of changing climate, natural proxies of future conditions (upwelling zones, CO2 vents, naturally warm habitats) show that phenotypic adjustment and/or beneficial genetic selection is possible for some species, indicating complex plasticity–adaptation interactions.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Global Change Biology