Developmental stress does not induce genome-wide DNA methylation changes in wild great tit (Parus major) nestlings

Bernice Sepers*, A.C. Mateman, Fleur Gawehns, Koen J.F. Verhoeven, Kees van Oers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The environment experienced during early life is a crucial factor in the life of many organisms. This early life environment has been shown to have profound effects on morphology, physiology and fitness. However, the molecular mechanisms that mediate these effects are largely unknown, even though they are essential for our understanding of the processes that induce phenotypic variation in natural populations. DNA methylation is an epigenetic mechanism that has been suggested to explain such environmentally induced phenotypic changes early in life. To investigate whether DNA methylation changes are associated with experimentally induced early developmental effects, we cross-fostered great tit (Parus major) nestlings and manipulated their brood sizes in a natural study population. We assessed experimental brood size effects on pre-fledging biometry and behaviour. We linked this to genome-wide DNA methylation levels of CpG sites in erythrocyte DNA, using 122 individuals and an improved epiGBS2 laboratory protocol. Brood enlargement caused developmental stress and negatively affected nestling condition, predominantly during the second half of the breeding season, when conditions are harsher. Brood enlargement, however, affected nestling DNA methylation in only one CpG site and only if the hatch date was taken into account. In conclusion, this study shows that nutritional stress in enlarged broods does not associate with direct effects on genome-wide DNA methylation. Future studies should assess whether genome-wide DNA methylation variation may arise later in life as a consequence of phenotypic changes during early development.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16973
Pages (from-to)3960-3974
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular Ecology
Volume32
Issue number14
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2023

Keywords

  • behaviour
  • brood size
  • epiGBS2
  • epigenetics
  • growth

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