Phenotypic plasticity buffers organisms from environmental change and is hypothesized to aid the initial establishment of nonindigenous species in novel environments and postestablishment range expansion. The genetic mechanisms that underpin phenotypically plastic traits are generally poorly characterized; however, there is strong evidence that modulation of gene transcription is an important component of these responses. Here, we use RNA sequencing to examine the transcriptional basis of temperature tolerance for round and tubenose goby, two nonindigenous fish species that differ dramatically in the extent of their Great Lakes invasions despite similar invasion dates. We used generalized linear models of read count data to compare gene transcription responses of organisms exposed to increased and decreased water temperature from those at ambient conditions. We identify greater response in the magnitude of transcriptional changes for the more successful round goby compared with the less successful tubenose goby. Round goby transcriptional responses reflect alteration of biological function consistent with adaptive responses to maintain or regain homeostatic function in other species. In contrast, tubenose goby transcription patterns indicate a response to stressful conditions, but the pattern of change in biological functions does not match those expected for a return to homeostatic status. Transcriptional plasticity plays an important role in the acute thermal tolerance for these species; however, the impaired response to stress we demonstrate in the tubenose goby may contribute to their limited invasion success relative to the round goby. Transcriptional profiling allows the simultaneous assessment of the magnitude of transcriptional response as well as the biological functions involved in the response to environmental stress and is thus a valuable approach for evaluating invasion potential.
Wellband, Kyle W. and Heath, Daniel D., "Plasticity in gene transcription explains the differential performance of two invasive fish species" (2017). Evolutionary Applications, 10, 6, 563-576.