Warmer, faster, stronger: Research reveals unexpected benefits of living in a changing climate

Aug 16, 2012
McMaster biologist Graham Scott looks at a zebrafish. Scott has found that that growing up at warmer temperatures helps some aquatic animals cope with climate change, raising questions about the limits of adaptation. Photo: JD Howell

(Phys.org) -- New research by McMaster biologist Graham Scott suggests that growing up at warmer temperatures helps some aquatic animals cope with climate change, raising questions about the limits of adaptation.

Working with Ian Johnston at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, Scott has found that raising zebrafish at warmer temperatures as actually improves their ability to adjust to both higher and lower temperatures as adults.

Their research shows the fish are hardier after being raised in a nursery, and raises the question of how far the temperature can rise before the advantage becomes a liability, as inevitably it will, Scott says.

“What limits are there to their coping abilities? That’s what we’re really trying to understand,” says Scott, a specialist in animals’ adaptation to challenging environments.

“If we want to appreciate how the natural world is affected by , that’s what we need to know.”

The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Zebrafish are native to freshwater habitats of Southern Asia, and over their lives can experience a range of temperatures from almost 40 C to nearly freezing. The fish under study were raised across the range of temperatures they would normally experience in their natural breeding season (22 C to 32 C).

The biology of – especially their short gestation period – makes them ideal research subjects.

Scott and Johnston found that when embryos raised in warm water experienced temperature variation as adults, they could swim faster, their muscle was better suited for aerobic exercise, and they expressed at higher levels many of the genes that contribute to exercise performance.

The improvements were true for the adult fish in warmer and colder water alike – a finding that surprised the researchers.

“We thought that they might do better under warmer conditions because they grew up in warmer conditions. We didn’t think they’d also do better under colder conditions, but they did.”

Explore further: Shade grown coffee shrinking as a proportion of global coffee production

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Changing climate can affect fish fertility

Apr 10, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Warmer water temperatures can greatly increase the reproductive capacity of the widely distributed pest fish species gambusia, or mosquito fish, a new study has found.

Global warming could kill off snails

Feb 07, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Climate change models must be reworked in a bid to save some of the world’s smallest and slimiest creatures from extinction, a Flinders University PhD candidate warns.

Mild winter triggers early maple sugar season

Feb 23, 2012

Lighter than normal snow accumulation, warmer than normal temperatures earlier in the season and an earlier than normal start of the maple syrup season are making some weather watchers wonder if there is a new “normal.”

Recommended for you

EU must take urgent action on invasive species

3 hours ago

The EU must take urgent action to halt the spread of invasive species that are threatening native plants and animals across Europe, according to a scientist from Queen's University Belfast.

Ranchers benefit from long-term grazing data

5 hours ago

Scientists studying changes in the Earth's surface rely on 40 years of Landsat satellite imaging, but South Dakota ranchers making decisions about grazing their livestock can benefit from 70 years of data ...

Diverse gene pool critical for tigers' survival

5 hours ago

(Phys.org) —New research by Stanford scholars shows that increasing genetic diversity among the 3,000 or so tigers left on the planet is the key to their survival as a species.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Revealing camouflaged bacteria

A research team at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel has discovered an protein family that plays a central role in the fight against the bacterial pathogen Salmonella within the cells. The so cal ...

EU must take urgent action on invasive species

The EU must take urgent action to halt the spread of invasive species that are threatening native plants and animals across Europe, according to a scientist from Queen's University Belfast.

Progress in the fight against quantum dissipation

(Phys.org) —Scientists at Yale have confirmed a 50-year-old, previously untested theoretical prediction in physics and improved the energy storage time of a quantum switch by several orders of magnitude. ...