Understanding physiological adaptations of organisms to temperature changes that characterize their habitat is the first step in predicting the putative effects of global climate change on population dynamics. Mudflats are an important part of the intertidal zone and experience extreme and fluctuating temperatures. Therein, species would be potentially susceptible to global warming. The present study explored physiological adaptations of burrowing species to life in an intertidal mudflat by analyzing the potential operative temperatures in the mudflat, and assessing cardiac performance and the transcriptional response to thermal stress by a typical burrowing bivalve, the razor clam Sinonovacula constricta in different thermal environments, mimicking conditions during low tides. Clams showed higher thermal sublethal limits in mud with overlying air than in mud with overlying water, indicating an adaptation to rapidly changing ambient temperatures and thermal environments during emersion. This sublethal limit was far above the maximum operative temperature in the actual habitat site and suggests a potential buffer zone to ensure survival under unexpected high temperatures, that could occur with global warming. In response to high temperature, S. constricta exhibited the common heat stress response by up-regulating expression of the Bcl2-associated athanogene 3 (BAG3) and heat shock proteins to cope with the adverse effects of high temperature on protein homeostasis. Increased expression of key genes, including molybdenum cofactor synthesis 3 (MOCS3), oligoribonuclease (REX2), and NFκappaB inhibitor alpha (NFIA) may further remit the effect of thermal stress during the emersion period and delay a situation where clams reach their thermal sublethal limit, thereby helping to endure high temperature during low tide. These results clearly illustrate significant adaptations of a burrowing bivalve to life in intertidal mudflats at both physiological and molecular levels and can provide insights into potential physiological or evolutionary responses that could aid survival of mudflat species in a changing global climate.

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Science of the Total Environment
Department of Biology

Zhang, W.-Y. (Wen-yi), Storey, K, & Dong, Y.-W. (Yun-wei). (2020). Adaptations to the mudflat: Insights from physiological and transcriptional responses to thermal stress in a burrowing bivalve Sinonovacula constricta. Science of the Total Environment, 710. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.136280