Smithson, Mark and Thorson, Jennifer L M and Sadler-Riggleman, Ingrid andBeck, Daniel and Skinner, Michael K and Dybdahl, Mark
Epigenetic variation might play an important role in generating adaptive phenotypes by underpinning within-generation developmental plasticity, persistent parental effects of the environment (e.g., transgenerational plasticity), or heritable epigenetically based polymorphism. These adaptive mechanisms should be most critical in organisms where genetic sources of variation are limited. Using a clonally reproducing freshwater snail (Potamopyrgus antipodarum), we examined the stability of an adaptive phenotype (shell shape) and of DNA methylation between generations. First, we raised three generations of snails adapted to river currents in the lab without current. We showed that habitat-specific adaptive shell shape was relatively stable across three generations but shifted slightly over generations two and three toward a no-current lake phenotype. We also showed that DNA methylation specific to high-current environments was stable across one generation. This study provides the first evidence of stability of DNA methylation patterns across one generation in an asexual animal. Together, our observations are consistent with the hypothesis that adaptive shell shape variation is at least in part determined by transgenerational plasticity, and that DNA methylation provides a potential mechanism for stability of shell shape across one generation.