Early developmental effects and environmental conditions experienced by parents affect personality traits, even over multiple generations. Yet, the mechanisms underlying transgenerational regulation remain unknown, while determining them is crucial to understand how development affects heritable traits in evolutionary processes.
A likely mechanism involved in such epigenetic regulation is DNA methylation, since this can stably alter gene expression in response to environmental factors without structural modifications of the DNA sequence. We study this by associating DNA methylation to variation in exploratory behaviour in the great tit (Parus major). In order to do this, we manipulated brood size in a natural study population.
We found more differentially methylated sites in the treatment set (enlarged vs. reduced brood size) than in the control set (control1 versus control2). Furthermore, we found differences in methylation percentage for genes related to growth and behaviour. Therefore, early life stress directly affects epigenetic factors related to growth and behaviour.
In the future, we will assess if there is an effect of the observed methylation changes on variation in personality traits, if there is a genetic basis for (personality-related) DNA methylation and if gene methylation variation associates with behaviour and life-history traits under natural conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2019

ID: 9872455