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Researchers study how fish adapt to warming water temperatures


April 28, 2015
By Philip Nickerson

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James Cook University (JCU) in northern Queensland and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, have kicked off a three-year joint study that could take climate change research into new territory.

A JCU team from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies has been granted more than AUS$600,000 (US~$458,000) to find out why fish exposed to high water temperatures have offspring that are born already acclimatized to the high temperatures.

It’s thought that epigenetic changes triggered by the environment are responsible for the fast adaptation, and the research will focus on exactly how and where these occur.

Lead researcher, Professor Philip Monday, says if fish are exposed to water even a few degrees

higher than normal their metabolic performance drops. “But if the parents are exposed to the higher temperatures, their baby’s performance will be normal,” he said.

“Something switches on certain physiological pathways when the parents are exposed to high temperature. Something that primes the babies to do better. What we want to know is what pathways are turned on and how are they turned on.”

The work will be funded by a competitive research grant from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), a purpose-built campus on the banks of the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia. KAUST staff visited Townsville to assist with planning the experiments and testing.

Professor Munday said the work will be shared with the Saudi university which has state-of-the-art genetics facilities. JCU will contribute its expertise and data from years of multigenerational fish breeding and climate change studies.

Professor Munday said the work will help in the understanding of climate change and predicting its impacts. Scientists hope to discover exactly how and why some animals are able to cope with warmer conditions, and how science might facilitate this adaptation.