Microbiota mediated plasticity promotes thermal adaptation in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis

Laura Baldassarre, Hua Ying, Adam M. Reitzel, Sören Franzenburg, Sebastian Fraune*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    24 Citations (Scopus)


    At the current rate of climate change, it is unlikely that multicellular organisms will be able to adapt to changing environmental conditions through genetic recombination and natural selection alone. Thus, it is critical to understand alternative mechanisms that allow organisms to cope with rapid environmental changes. Here, we use the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis, which has evolved the capability of surviving in a wide range of temperatures and salinities, as a model to investigate the microbiota as a source of rapid adaptation. We long-term acclimate polyps of Nematostella to low, medium, and high temperatures, to test the impact of microbiota-mediated plasticity on animal acclimation. Using the same animal clonal line, propagated from a single polyp, allows us to eliminate the effects of the host genotype. The higher thermal tolerance of animals acclimated to high temperature can be transferred to non-acclimated animals through microbiota transplantation. The offspring fitness is highest from F0 females acclimated to high temperature and specific members of the acclimated microbiota are transmitted to the next generation. These results indicate that microbiota plasticity can contribute to animal thermal acclimation and its transmission to the next generation may represent a rapid mechanism for thermal adaptation.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number3804
    JournalNature Communications
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


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