Listen to the news and you are bound to hear that researchers are increasingly interested in the biological manifestations of trauma that reverberate through the generations. Research in this area can be controversial in the public realm, provoking societal issues about personal responsibility (are we really born free or are we born with the burden of our ancestors’ experience?). It is also a touchy subject within evolutionary biology because it provokes concerns about Lamarckianism and general scepticism about the importance of extra-genetic inheritance (Laland et al., 2014). Part of why the research in this area has been controversial is because it is difficult to study. For one, there is the problem of how long it takes to track changes across generations, making long-term, multi-generational studies especially tricky in long-lived species. Moreover, there are presently very few (if any) known molecular mechanisms by which environmental effects can be incorporated into the genome and persist for multiple successive generations, casting doubt on their evolutionary repercussions. Fortunately, you only have to look in your local pond to find the creatures that are teaching us a great deal about how and why the experiences of parents are passed down to their offspring. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Hales et al. (Hales et al., 2017) illustrate the power of Daphnia (“water fleas”) for making headway in this field.
- Life history evolution
- Maternal effects
- Phenotypic plasticity
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics