Species-specific effects of thermal stress on the expression of genetic variation across a diverse group of plant and animal taxa under experimental conditions

Klaus Fischer* (Corresponding author), Jürgen Kreyling, Michaël Beaulieu, Ilka Beil, Manuela Bog, Dries Bonte, Stefanie Holm, Sabine Knoblauch, Dustin Koch, Lena Muffler, Pierick Mouginot, Maria Paulinich, J. F. Scheepens, Raijana Schiemann, Jonas Schmeddes, Martin Schnittler, Gabriele Uhl, Marieke van der Maaten-Theunissen, Julia M. Weier, Martin WilmkingRobert Weigel, Phillip Gienapp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
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Assessing the genetic adaptive potential of populations and species is essential for better understanding evolutionary processes. However, the expression of genetic variation may depend on environmental conditions, which may speed up or slow down evolutionary responses. Thus, the same selection pressure may lead to different responses. Against this background, we here investigate the effects of thermal stress on genetic variation, mainly under controlled laboratory conditions. We estimated additive genetic variance (VA), narrow-sense heritability (h2) and the coefficient of genetic variation (CVA) under both benign control and stressful thermal conditions. We included six species spanning a diverse range of plant and animal taxa, and a total of 25 morphological and life-history traits. Our results show that (1) thermal stress reduced fitness components, (2) the majority of traits showed significant genetic variation and that (3) thermal stress affected the expression of genetic variation (VA, h2 or CVA) in only one-third of the cases (25 of 75 analyses, mostly in one clonal species). Moreover, the effects were highly species-specific, with genetic variation increasing in 11 and decreasing in 14 cases under stress. Our results hence indicate that thermal stress does not generally affect the expression of genetic variation under laboratory conditions but, nevertheless, increases or decreases genetic variation in specific cases. Consequently, predicting the rate of genetic adaptation might not be generally complicated by environmental variation, but requires a careful case-by-case consideration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23–37
Number of pages15
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • international
  • Plan_S-Compliant_NO
  • Genetic Variation
  • Animals
  • Plants/genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular


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