Meeting Abstract

56.1  Saturday, Jan. 5  Maternal stress as a driver of adaptive phenotypic responses in offspring SHERIFF, MJ*; LOVE, OP; University of Alaska Fairbanks

Maternal stress has become widely recognized as a driving factor affecting offspring phenotypes, and evolutionary biologists and medical practitioners are investing great effort in determining the role of maternally-derived stress (MDS) as a significant inducer of trans-generational phenotypic plasticity in offspring. Given the large contribution by the medical community to the literature, many of the phenotypic responses of prenatal stress are viewed as unavoidable negative outcomes by the ecological community. However, these studies offer a biased underestimate of the potential advantages of MDS-induced phenotypic plasticity as they are not designed to recognize, or experimentally test, the evolutionary history and ecological relevance of the maternal stress-offspring phenotype relationship. Here I will present emerging evidence from free-living systems that are beginning to show how and why MDS may act as a translator between the quality of the maternal or ecological environment and the potentially adaptive phenotypic responses in offspring. A recurring finding is the necessity to examine MDS-induced phenotypic adjustments within the evolutionary life-history context of the species as well as both the immediate environmental context in which they occur and the longer-term environmental context that offspring face as reproductive adults. As such, maternal stress effects can be considered adaptive or maladaptive depending upon whether they reliably translate the maternal environment into an appropriate offspring response (i.e., dependent upon the degree of maternal-offspring environmental matching).