There is growing evidence that maternal exposure to environmental stressors can alter offspring phenotype and increase fitness. Here, we investigate the relative and combined effects of maternal and developmental exposure to mild hypoxia (65% and 74% air saturation respectively) on the growth and development of embryos of the marine gastropod Littorina littorea. Differences in embryo morphological traits were driven by the developmental environment, whereas the maternal environment and interactive effects of maternal and developmental environment were the main driver of differences in the timing of developmental events. While developmental exposure to mild hypoxia significantly increased the area of an important respiratory organ, the velum, it significantly delayed hatching of veliger larvae and reduced their size at hatching and overall survival. Maternal exposure had a significant effect on these traits, and interacted with developmental exposure to influence the time of appearance of morphological characters, suggesting that both are important in affecting developmental trajectories. A comparison between embryos that successfully hatched and those that died in mild hypoxia revealed that survivors exhibited hypertrophy in the velum and associated pre-oral cilia suggesting these traits are linked with survival in low oxygen environments. We conclude that both maternal and developmental environments shape offspring phenotype in a species with a complex, developmental life history, and that plasticity in embryo morphology arising from exposure to even small reductions in oxygen tensions impacts the hatching success of these embryos.



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Publication Title

J Exp Biol

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School of Biological and Marine Sciences


Developmental plasticity, Hypoxia, Maternal effects, Planktotroph