, Volume 162, Issue 4, pp 865-872
Date: 02 Dec 2009

Transgenerational effects of poor elemental food quality on Daphnia magna

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Environmental effects on parents can strongly affect the phenotype of their offspring, which alters the heritability of traits and the offspring’s responses to the environment. We examined whether P limitation of the aquatic invertebrate, Daphnia magna, alters the responses of its offspring to inadequate P nutrition. Mother Daphnia consuming P-poor algal food produced smaller neonates having lower body P content compared to control (P-rich) mothers. These offspring from P-stressed mothers, when fed P-rich food, grew faster and reproduced on the same schedule as those from P-sufficient mothers. In contrast, offspring from P-stressed mothers, when fed P-poor food, grew more slowly and had delayed reproduction compared to their sisters born to control mothers. There was also weak evidence that daughters from P-stressed mothers are more susceptible to infection by the virulent bacterium, Pasteuria ramosa. Our results show that P stress is not only transferred across generations, but also that its effect on the offspring generation varies depending upon the quality of their own environment. Maternal P nutrition can thus determine the nature of offspring responses to food P content and potentially obfuscates relationships between the performance of offspring and their own nutrition. Given that food quality can be highly variable within and among natural environments, our results demonstrate that maternal effects should be included as an additional dimension into studies of how elemental nutrition affects the physiology, ecology, and evolution of animal consumers.

Communicated by Ulrich Sommer.