Background: Rockweeds are among the most important foundation species of temperate rocky littoral shores. In the Baltic Sea, the rockweed Fucus vesiculosus is distributed along a decreasing salinity gradient from the North Atlantic entrance to the low-salinity regions in the north-eastern margins, thus, demonstrating a remarkable tolerance to hyposalinity. The underlying mechanisms for this tolerance are still poorly understood. Here, we exposed F. vesiculosus from two range-margin populations to the hyposaline (2.5 PSU - practical salinity unit) conditions that are projected to occur in the region by the end of this century as a result of climate change. We used transcriptome analysis (RNA-seq) to determine the gene expression patterns associated with hyposalinity acclimation, and examined the variation in these patterns between the sampled populations.
Results: Hyposalinity induced different responses in the two populations: in one, only 26 genes were differentially expressed between salinity treatments, while the other population demonstrated up- or downregulation in 3072 genes. In the latter population, the projected future hyposalinity induced an acute response in terms of antioxidant production. Genes associated with membrane composition and structure were also heavily involved, with the upregulation of fatty acid and actin production, and the downregulation of ion channels and alginate pathways. Changes in gene expression patterns clearly indicated an inhibition of the photosynthetic machinery, with a consequent downregulation of carbohydrate production. Simultaneously, energy consumption increased, as revealed by the upregulation of genes associated with respiration and ATP synthesis. Overall, the genes that demonstrated the largest increase in expression were ribosomal proteins involved in translation pathways. The fixation rate of SNP:s was higher within genes responding to hyposalinity than elsewhere in the transcriptome.
Conclusions: The high fixation rate in the genes coding for salinity acclimation mechanisms implies strong selection for them. The among-population differentiation that we observed in the transcriptomic response to hyposalinity stress suggests that populations of F. vesiculosus may differ in their tolerance to future desalination, possibly as a result of local adaptation to salinity conditions within the Baltic Sea. These results emphasise the importance of considering interspecific genetic variation when evaluating the consequences of environmental change.
Keywords: Climate change; Fucus; Genetic variation; Hyposalinity; Transcriptomic.