Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological Genetics and Physiology
Prenatal exposure to elevated glucocorticoids can act as a signal of environmental stress, resulting in modifications to offspring phenotype. While “negative” phenotypic effects (i.e., smaller size, slower growth) are often reported, recent research coupling phenotype with other fitness-related traits has suggested positive impacts of prenatal stress. Using captive Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), we treated eggs with biologically relevant cortisol levels—low (300 ng mL−1), high (1,000 ng mL−1), or control (0 ng mL−1)—to examine the early-life impacts of maternally transferred stress hormones on offspring. Specifically, we measured early survival, rate of development, and multiple measures of morphology. Low and high cortisol dosing of eggs resulted in significantly higher survival compared to controls (37% and 24% higher, respectively). Fish reared from high dose eggs were structurally smaller compared to control fish, but despite this variation in structural size, exposure to elevated cortisol did not impact developmental rate. These results demonstrate that elevations in egg cortisol can positively influence offspring fitness through an increase in early survival while also altering phenotype at a critical life-history stage. Overall, these results suggest that exposure to prenatal stress may not always produce apparently negative impacts on offspring fitness and further proposes that complex phenotypic responses should be examined in relevant environmental conditions.
Capelle, Pauline M.; Semeniuk, Christina A. D.; Sopinka, Natalie M.; Heath, John W.; and Love, Oliver P., "Prenatal Stress Exposure Generates Higher Early Survival and Smaller Size without Impacting Developmental Rate in a Pacific Salmon" (2016). Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological Genetics and Physiology, 325, 10, 641-650.
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