Chapter

Ecological Genomics

Volume 781 of the series Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology pp 191-210

Date:

Ecological Epigenetics

  • Holly J. KilvitisAffiliated withDepartment of Integrative Biology, University of South Florida Email author 
  • , Mariano AlvarezAffiliated withDepartment of Integrative Biology, University of South Florida
  • , Christy M. FoustAffiliated withDepartment of Integrative Biology, University of South Florida
  • , Aaron W. SchreyAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Armstrong Atlantic State University
  • , Marta RobertsonAffiliated withDepartment of Integrative Biology, University of South Florida
  • , Christina L. RichardsAffiliated withDepartment of Integrative Biology, University of South Florida

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access

Abstract

Biologists have assumed that heritable variation due to DNA sequence differences (i.e., genetic variation) allows populations of organisms to be both robust and adaptable to extreme environmental conditions. Natural selection acts on the variation among different genotypes and ultimately changes the genetic composition of the population. While there is compelling evidence about the importance of genetic polymorphisms, evidence is accumulating that epigenetic mechanisms (e.g., chromatin modifications, DNA methylation) can affect ecologically important traits, even in the absence of genetic variation. In this chapter, we review this evidence and discuss the consequences of epigenetic variation in natural populations. We begin by defining the term epigenetics, providing a brief overview of various epigenetic mechanisms, and noting the potential importance of epigenetics in the study of ecology. We continue with a review of the ecological epigenetics literature to demonstrate what is currently known about the amount and distribution of epigenetic variation in natural populations. Then, we consider the various ecological contexts in which epigenetics has proven particularly insightful and discuss the potential evolutionary consequences of epigenetic variation. Finally, we conclude with suggestions for future directions of ecological epigenetics research.

Keywords

Epigenetics Ecology Phenotypic variation