Adaptive capacity of the habitat modifying sea urchin Centrostephanus rodgersii to ocean warming and ocean acidification: performance of early embryos

PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42497. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042497. Epub 2012 Aug 3.


Background: Predicting effects of rapid climate change on populations depends on measuring the effects of climate stressors on performance, and potential for adaptation. Adaptation to stressful climatic conditions requires heritable genetic variance for stress tolerance present in populations.

Methodology/principal findings: We quantified genetic variation in tolerance of early development of the ecologically important sea urchin Centrostephanus rodgersii to near-future (2100) ocean conditions projected for the southeast Australian global change hot spot. Multiple dam-sire crosses were used to quantify the interactive effects of warming (+2-4 °C) and acidification (-0.3-0.5 pH units) across twenty-seven family lines. Acidification, but not temperature, decreased the percentage of cleavage stage embryos. In contrast, temperature, but not acidification decreased the percentage of gastrulation. Cleavage success in response to both stressors was strongly affected by sire identity. Sire and dam identity significantly affected gastrulation and both interacted with temperature to determine developmental success. Positive genetic correlations for gastrulation indicated that genotypes that did well at lower pH also did well in higher temperatures.

Conclusions/significance: Significant genotype (sire) by environment interactions for both stressors at gastrulation indicated the presence of heritable variation in thermal tolerance and the ability of embryos to respond to changing environments. The significant influence of dam may be due to maternal provisioning (maternal genotype or environment) and/or offspring genotype. It appears that early development in this ecologically important sea urchin is not constrained in adapting to the multiple stressors of ocean warming and acidification. The presence of tolerant genotypes indicates the potential to adapt to concurrent warming and acidification, contributing to the resilience of C. rodgersii in a changing ocean.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acids / metabolism*
  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Cleavage Stage, Ovum / physiology
  • Ecosystem*
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gastrulation
  • Genotype
  • Global Warming*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Male
  • Oceans and Seas*
  • Sea Urchins / embryology*
  • Sea Urchins / genetics
  • Sea Urchins / physiology
  • Temperature


  • Acids

Grant support

This research was supported by grants from the Australian Research Council (, New South Wales Environment Research trust ( and the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility ( The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.