Lack of genotype-by-environment interaction suggests limited potential for evolutionary changes in plasticity in the eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica

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Eastern oysters in the northern Gulf of Mexico are facing rapid environmental changes and can respond to this change via plasticity or evolution. Plasticity can act as an immediate buffer against environmental change, but this buffering could impact the organism's ability to evolve in subsequent generations. While plasticity and evolution are not mutually exclusive, the relative contribution and interaction between them remains unclear. In this study, we investigate the roles of plastic and evolved responses to environmental variation and Perkinsus marinus infection in Crassostrea virginica by using a common garden experiment with 80 oysters from six families outplanted at two field sites naturally differing in salinity. We use growth data, P. marinus infection intensities, 3' RNA sequencing (TagSeq) and low-coverage whole-genome sequencing to identify the effect of genotype, environment and genotype-by-environment interaction on the oyster's response to site. As one of first studies to characterize the joint effects of genotype and environment on transcriptomic and morphological profiles in a natural setting, we demonstrate that C. virginica has a highly plastic response to environment and that this response is parallel among genotypes. We also find that genes responding to genotype have distinct and opposing profiles compared to genes responding to environment with regard to expression levels, Ka/Ks ratios and nucleotide diversity. Our findings suggest that C. virginica may be able to buffer the immediate impacts of future environmental changes by altering gene expression and physiology, but the lack of genetic variation in plasticity suggests limited capacity for evolved responses.

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Molecular ecology

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