Differences in the timing of cardio-respiratory development determine whether marine gastropod embryos survive or die in hypoxia.
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Physiological plasticity of early developmental stages is a key way by which organisms can survive and adapt to environmental change. We investigated developmental plasticity of aspects of the cardio-respiratory physiology of encapsulated embryos of a marine gastropod,Littorina obtusata, surviving exposure to moderate hypoxia (PO2 =8 kPa) and compared the development of these survivors with that of individuals that died before hatching. Individuals surviving hypoxia exhibited a slower rate of development and altered ontogeny of cardio-respiratory structure and function compared with normoxic controls (PO2 >20 kPa). The onset and development of the larval and adult hearts were delayed in chronological time in hypoxia, but both organs appeared earlier in developmental time and cardiac activity rates were greater. The velum, a transient, 'larval' organ thought to play a role in gas exchange, was larger in hypoxia but developed more slowly (in chronological time), and velar cilia-driven, rotational activity was lower. Despite these effects of hypoxia, 38% of individuals survived to hatching. Compared with those embryos that died during development, these surviving embryos had advanced expression of adult structures, i.e. a significantly earlier occurrence and greater activity of their adult heart and larger shells. In contrast, embryos that died retained larval cardio-respiratory features (the velum and larval heart) for longer in chronological time. Surviving embryos came from eggs with significantly higher albumen provisioning than those that died, suggesting an energetic component for advanced development of adult traits.
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