Sex-specific plasticity across generations II: Grandpaternal effects are lineage specific and sex specific

Jennifer K. Hellmann, Erika R. Carlson, Alison M. Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Transgenerational plasticity (TGP) occurs when the environment encountered by one generation (F0) alters the phenotypes of one or more future generations (e.g. F1 and F2). Sex selective TGP, via specific lineages or to only male or female descendants, has been underexplored in natural systems, and may be adaptive if it allows past generations to fine-tune the phenotypes of future generations in response to sex-specific life-history strategies. We sought to understand if exposing males to predation risk can influence grandoffspring via sperm in three-spined stickleback Gasterosteus aculeatus. We specifically tested the hypothesis that grandparental effects are transmitted in a sex-specific way down the male lineage, from paternal grandfathers to F2 males. We reared F1 offspring of unexposed and predator-exposed F0 males under ‘control’ conditions and used them to generate F2s with control grandfathers, a predator-exposed maternal grandfather (i.e. predator-exposed F0 males to F1 daughters to F2s), a predator-exposed paternal grandfather (i.e. predator-exposed F0 males to F1 sons to F2s) or two predator-exposed grandfathers. We then assayed male and female F2s for a variety of traits related to antipredator defence. We found little evidence that transgenerational effects were mediated to only male descendants via the paternal lineage. Instead, grandpaternal effects depended on lineage and were mediated largely across sexes, from F1 males to F2 females and from F1 females to F2 males. When their paternal grandfather was exposed to predation risk, female F2s were heavier and showed a reduced change in behaviour in response to a simulated predator attack relative to grandoffspring of control, unexposed grandparents. In contrast, male F2s showed reduced antipredator behaviour when their maternal grandfather was exposed to predation risk. However, these patterns were only evident when one grandfather, but not both grandfathers, was exposed to predation risk, suggesting the potential for non-additive interactions across lineages. If sex-specific and lineage effects are common, then grandparental effects are likely underestimated in the literature. These results draw attention to the importance of sex-selective inheritance of environmental effects and raise new questions about the proximate and ultimate causes of selective transmission across generations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2800-2812
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Gasterosteus aculeatus
  • intergenerational plasticity
  • non-genetic inheritance
  • paternal effect
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • predation risk
  • transgenerational plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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