Transgenerational plasticity as an important mechanism affecting response of clonal species to changing climate
The role that epigenetic inheritance can play in adaptation may differ between sexuals and asexuals because (1) the dynamics of adaptation differ under sexual and asexual reproduction and the opportunities offered by epigenetic inheritance may affect these dynamics differently; and (2) in asexual reproduction epigenetic reprogramming mechanisms that are associated with meiosis can be bypassed, which could promote the buildup of epigenetic variation in asexuals. Here, we evaluate current evidence for an epigenetic contribution to adaptation in asexuals. We argue that two aspects of epigenetic variation should have particular relevance for asexuals, namely epigenetics-mediated phenotypic plasticity within and between generations, and heritable variation via stochastic epimutations. An evaluation of epigenetic reprogramming mechanisms suggests that some, but not all, forms of asexual reproduction enhance the likelihood of stable transmission of epigenetic marks across generations compared to sexual reproduction. However, direct tests of these predicted sexual-asexual differences are virtually lacking. Stable transmission of DNA methylation, transcriptomes, and phenotypes from parent to clonal offspring are demonstrated in various asexual species, and clonal genotypes from natural populations show habitat-specific DNA methylation. We discuss how these initial observations can be extended to demonstrate an epigenetic contribution to adaptation.