John L. Coffin, Joanna L. Kelley, Punidan D. Jeyasingh, Michael Tobler

Jan 9, 2022
Molecular Ecology
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Our understanding of the mechanisms mediating the resilience of organisms to environmental change remains lacking. Heavy metals negatively affect processes at all biological scales, yet organisms inhabiting contaminated environments must maintain homeostasis to survive. Tar Creek in Oklahoma, USA, contains high concentrations of heavy metals and an abundance of Western mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis), though several fish species persist at lower frequency. To test hypotheses about the mechanisms mediating the persistence and abundance of mosquitofish in Tar Creek, we integrated ionomic data from seven resident fish species and transcriptomic data from mosquitofish to test hypotheses about the mechanisms mediating the persistence of mosquitofish in Tar Creek. We predicted that mosquitofish minimize uptake of heavy metals more than other Tar Creek fish inhabitants and induce transcriptional responses to detoxify metals that enter the body, allowing them to persist in Tar Creek at higher density than species that may lack these responses. Tar Creek populations of all seven fish species accumulated heavy metals, suggesting mosquitofish cannot block uptake more efficiently than other species. We found population‐level gene expression changes between mosquitofish in Tar Creek and nearby unpolluted sites. Gene expression differences primarily occurred in the gill, where we found upregulation of genes involved with lowering transfer of metal ions from the blood into cells and mitigating free radicals. However, many differentially expressed genes were not in known metal response pathways, suggesting multifarious selective regimes and/or previously undocumented pathways could impact tolerance in mosquitofish. Our systems‐level study identified well characterized and putatively new mechanisms that enable mosquitofish to inhabit heavy metal‐contaminated environments.

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