At the current rate of climate change, it is unlikely that multicellular organisms will be able to adapt to changing environmental conditions through genetic recombination and natural selection alo. Thus, it is critical to understand alternative mechanisms that allow organisms to cope with rapid environmental changes. Here, we used the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis as model to investigate the microbiota as putative source of rapid adaptation. Living in estuarine ecosystems, highly variable aquatic environments, N. vectensis has evolved the capability of surviving in a wide range of temperatures and salinities. In a long-term experiment, we acclimated polyps of Nematostella to low, medium and high temperatures, in order to test the impact of microbiota-mediated plasticity on animal acclimation. Using the same animal clonal line, propagated from a single polyp, allowed us to eliminate effects of the host genotype. Interestingly, the higher thermal tolerance of animals acclimated to high temperature, could be transferred to non-acclimated animals through microbiota transplantation. In addition, offspring survival was highest from mothers acclimated to high temperature, indicating the transmission of thermal resistance to the next generation. Microbial community analyses of the F1 generation revealed the transmission of the acclimated microbiota to the next generation. These results indicate that microbiota plasticity can contribute to animal thermal acclimation and its transmission to the next generation may represent a rapid mechanism for thermal adaptation.
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