Shaped by the past, acting in the present: transgenerational plasticity of anti-predatory traits

Lynne E. Beaty, Jillian D. Wormington, Bart J. Kensinger, Kristen N. Bayley, Scott R. Goeppner, Kyle D. Gustafson, Barney Luttbeg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Phenotypic expression can be altered by direct perception of environmental cues (within-generation phenotypic plasticity) and by the environmental cues experienced by previous generations (transgenerational plasticity). Few studies, however, have investigated how the characteristics of phenotypic traits affect their propensity to exhibit plasticity within and across generations. We tested whether plasticity differed within and across generations between morphological and behavioral anti-predator traits of Physa acuta, a freshwater snail. We reared 18 maternal lineages of P. acuta snails over two generations using a full factorial design of exposure to predator or control cues and quantified adult F2 shell size, shape, crush resistance, and anti-predator behavior – all traits which potentially affect their ability to avoid or survive predation attempts. We found that most morphological traits exhibited transgenerational plasticity, with parental exposure to predator cues resulting in larger and more crush-resistant offspring, but shell shape demonstrated within-generation plasticity. In contrast, we found that anti-predator behavior expressed only within-generation plasticity such that offspring reared in predator cues responded less to the threat of predation than control offspring. We discuss the consequences of this variation in plasticity for trait evolution and ecological dynamics. Overall, our study suggests that further empirical and theoretical investigation is needed in what types of traits are more likely to be affected by within-generational and transgenerational plasticity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1570-1576
Number of pages7
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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