Rapid response to changing environments during biological invasions: DNA methylation perspectives.
Dissecting complex interactions between species and their environments has long been a research hot spot in the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology. The well-recognized Darwinian evolution has well-explained long-term adaptation scenarios; however, "rapid" processes of biological responses to environmental changes remain largely unexplored, particularly molecular mechanisms such as DNA methylation that have recently been proposed to play crucial roles in rapid environmental adaptation. Invasive species, which have capacities to successfully survive rapidly changing environments during biological invasions, provide great opportunities to study molecular mechanisms of rapid environmental adaptation. Here, we used the methylation-sensitive amplified polymorphism (MSAP) technique in an invasive model ascidian, Ciona savignyi, to investigate how species interact with rapidly changing environments at the whole-genome level. We detected quite rapid DNA methylation response: significant changes of DNA methylation frequency and epigenetic differentiation between treatment and control groups occurred only after 1 hr of high-temperature exposure or after 3 hr of low-salinity challenge. In addition, we detected time-dependent hemimethylation changes and increased intragroup epigenetic divergence induced by environmental stresses. Interestingly, we found evidence of DNA methylation resilience, as most stress-induced DNA methylation variation maintained shortly (∼48 hr) and quickly returned back to the control levels. Our findings clearly showed that invasive species could rapidly respond to acute environmental changes through DNA methylation modifications, and rapid environmental changes left significant epigenetic signatures at the whole-genome level. All these results provide fundamental background to deeply investigate the contribution of DNA methylation mechanisms to rapid contemporary environmental adaptation.