Epigenetic responses to temperature and climate change

Beth Mccaw* (Corresponding Author), Tyler J. Stevenson, Lesley T. Lancaster

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Epigenetics represents a widely accepted set of mechanisms for how organisms respond to the environment by regulating phenotypic plasticity and life history transitions. Understanding the effects of environmental control on phenotypes and fitness, via epigenetic mechanisms, is essential for understanding the ability of organisms to rapidly adapt to environmental change. This review highlights the significance of environmental temperature on epigenetic control of phenotypic variation, with the aim of furthering our understanding of how epigenetics might help or hinder species’ adaptation to climate change. It outlines how epigenetic modifications, including DNA methylation and histone/chromatin modification, i) respond to temperature and regulate thermal stress responses in different kingdoms of life, ii) regulate temperaturedependent expression of key developmental processes and seasonal phenotypes, iii) facilitate transgenerational epigenetic inheritance of thermal adaptation, iv) adapt populations to local and global climate gradients and finally v) facilitate in biological invasions. Although the evidence points towards a conserved role of epigenetics in responding to temperature change, there appears to be an element of temperature- and species-specificity in the specific effects of temperature change on epigenetic modifications and resulting phenotypic responses. The review identifies areas of future research in epigenetic responses to environmental temperature change.
Original languageEnglish
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Early online date29 May 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 May 2020


  • Epigenetics
  • thermal response
  • stress
  • acclimation/acclimatization
  • adaptation
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • life history traits
  • developmental programming
  • seasonality
  • temperature-dependent sex determination
  • transgenerational plasticity
  • phenology
  • invasive species
  • climate change

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