Changing ocean temperatures affect gene expression in fish

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During a marine heatwave, tropical fish respond to the thermal stress by altering gene expression, but they do so in species-specific ways, according to a new study by Moisés A. Bernal and colleagues.

These responses could help researchers pinpoint how extreme marine warming events, which are expected to become more common and intense under global climate change, could impact the physiology of coral reef fishes.

The researchers examined molecular responses of fish during the Southern Hemisphere summer of 2015 to 2016 during the El Niño Southern Oscillations, which produced high temperatures that lasted longer than any recorded marine heatwave on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Bernal et al. analyzed patterns of gene expression within five species of coral reef damselfishes and cardinalfishes from Lizzard Island, Australia. They focused on roughly 16,000 genes in the liver, since this organ has been studied previously in relation to elevated temperatures and metabolic functioning.

The researchers looked at changes in these patterns across four points in time before, during and after the heatwave. They concluded that the biggest factor impacting differences in gene expression among the different fishes were differences in species response, but that the second largest impact came from changes in thermal conditions over time.

The different ways that these tropical fish species respond to marine heatwaves could impact the larger coral reef ecosystem, the authors conclude.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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