Cryptic microgeographic variation in responses of larval Atlantic cod to warmer temperatures
Although temperature is known to drive species dynamics and distributions, our understanding of the extent to which thermal plasticity varies within species is poor. Differences in plasticity can arise through local adaptation to heterogeneous environments, hybridization, and the release of cryptic genetic variation in novel environments. Here, wild Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) from contrasting environments inside and outside of a fjord system in southern Norway spawned freely in a semi-natural
... aboratory environment, generating pure crosses and reciprocal hybrids. A common-garden rearing experiment of the larvae at 6°C, 9.5°C, and 13°C revealed cryptic genetic variation in thermal responses of growth and survival at warmer temperatures. Variation in growth plasticity was greatest from 9.5°C to 13°C, the latter of which exceeds temperatures currently typical of larvae in their native environments. In contrast to our prediction of intermediate hybrid responses consistent with additive genetic effects, one reciprocal hybrid cross showed a 4% increase in size at the highest temperature, whereas most crosses exhibited 4-12% reductions in size. All crosses experienced severe (76-93%) reductions in survival from 9.5°C to 13°C. Variation in survival plasticity suggests a genetically variable basis for the severity with which survival declines with increasing temperature and the potential for an adaptive response to warming. Notably, we demonstrate the potential for hybridization between coexisting 'fjord' and 'North Sea' ecotypes that naturally inhabit the inner and outer fjord environments at contrasting frequencies. Yet, ecotype explained a minor (3-10%) component of growth reaction norm variation, suggesting it is insufficient for describing important biological variation. Current broad-scale management and lack of coastal monitoring impede the development of strategies to maintain the potential for adaptation to warming temperatures in systems with such phenotypic complexity resulting from cryptic genetic variation, coexisting ecotypes, and gene flow.