Cytosine methylation patterns suggest a role of methylation in plastic and adaptive responses to temperature in European grayling (Thymallus thymallus) populations

Tiina Sävilammi*, Spiros Papakostas, Erica H. Leder, L. Asbjørn Vøllestad, Paul V. Debes, Craig R. Primmer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Temperature is a key environmental parameter affecting both the phenotypes and distributions of organisms, particularly ectotherms. Rapid organismal responses to thermal environmental changes have been described for several ectotherms; however, the underlying molecular mechanisms often remain unclear. Here, we studied whole genome cytosine methylation patterns of European grayling (Thymallus thymallus) embryos from five populations with contemporary adaptations of early life history traits at either ‘colder’ or ‘warmer’ spawning grounds. We reared fish embryos in a common garden experiment using two temperatures that resembled the ‘colder’ and ‘warmer’ conditions of the natal natural environments. Genome-wide methylation patterns were similar in populations originating from colder thermal origin subpopulations, whereas single nucleotide polymorphisms uncovered from the same data identified strong population structure among isolated populations, but limited structure among interconnected populations. This was surprising, because the previously studied gene expression response among populations was mostly plastic, and mainly influenced by the developmental temperature. These findings support the hypothesis of the magnified role of epigenetic mechanisms in modulating plasticity. The abundance of consistently changing methylation loci between two warmer-to-colder thermal origin population pairs suggests that local adaptation has shaped the observed methylation patterns. The dynamic nature of the methylomes was further highlighted by genome-wide and site-specific plastic responses. Our findings support both the presence of a plastic response in a subset of CpG loci, and the evolutionary role of methylation divergence between populations adapting to contrasting thermal environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Academy of Finland under project numbers 287342 and 302873 and the Norwegian Research Council (Project number 177728). We thank the Finnish Centre for Scientific Computing for providing computational resources. We thank Ane Kvinge for assistance with field sampling and the common garden experiment. We thank the editor for their smooth handling of the manuscript. We thank anonymous reviewers for constructive comments and suggestions which greatly improved the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, © 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Other keywords

  • Cytosine methylation
  • developmental plasticity
  • epigenetic variation
  • promoter
  • salmonid
  • SNP
  • thermal adaptation
  • transcription


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