Skip to main content
Dryad logo

Using naturalistic incubation temperatures to demonstrate how variation in the timing and continuity of heat wave exposure influences phenotype

Citation

Breitenbach, Anthony; Carter, Amanda; Paitz, Ryan; Bowden, Rachel (2020), Using naturalistic incubation temperatures to demonstrate how variation in the timing and continuity of heat wave exposure influences phenotype, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.hhmgqnkdg

Abstract

Most organisms are exposed to bouts of warm temperatures during development, yet we know little about how variation in the timing and continuity of heat exposure influences biological processes. If heat waves increase in frequency and duration as predicted, it is necessary to understand how these bouts could affect thermally sensitive species, including reptiles with temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD). In a multi-year study using fluctuating temperatures, we exposed Trachemys scripta embryos to cooler, male-producing temperatures interspersed with warmer, female-producing temperatures (heat waves) that varied in either timing during development or continuity and then analyzed resulting sex ratios. We also quantified the expression of genes involved in testis differentiation (Dmrt1) and ovary differentiation (Cyp19A1) to determine how heat wave continuity affects the expression of genes involved in sexual differentiation. Heat waves applied during the middle of development produced significantly more females compared to heat waves that occurred just 7 days before or after this window, and even short gaps in the continuity of a heat wave decreased the production of females. Continuous heat exposure resulted in increased Cyp19A1 expression while discontinuous heat exposure failed to increase expression in either gene over a similar time course. We report that even small differences in the timing and continuity of heat waves can result in drastically different phenotypic outcomes. This strong effect of temperature occurred despite the fact that embryos were exposed to the same number of warm days during a short period of time, which highlights the need to study temperature effects under more ecologically relevant conditions where temperatures may be elevated for only a few days at a time. In the face of a changing climate, the finding that subtle shifts in temperature exposure result in substantial effects on embryonic development becomes even more critical.