Evolutionary consequences of environmental effects on gamete performance

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Variation in pre- and post-release gamete environments can influence evolutionary processes by altering fertilization outcomes and offspring traits. It is now widely accepted that offspring inherit epigenetic information from both their mothers and fathers. Genetic and epigenetic alterations to eggs and sperm-acquired post-release may also persist post-fertilization with consequences for offspring developmental success and later-life fitness. In externally fertilizing species, gametes are directly exposed to anthropogenically induced environmental impacts including pollution, ocean acidification and climate change. When fertilization occurs within the female reproductive tract, although gametes are at least partially protected from external environmental variation, the selective environment is likely to vary among females. In both scenarios, gamete traits and selection on gametes can be influenced by environmental conditions such as temperature and pollution as well as intrinsic factors such as male and female reproductive fluids, which may be altered by changes in male and female health and physiology. Here, we highlight some of the pathways through which changes in gamete environments can affect fertilization dynamics, gamete interactions and ultimately offspring fitness. We hope that by drawing attention to this important yet often overlooked source of variation, we will inspire future research into the evolutionary implications of anthropogenic interference of gamete environments including the use of assisted reproductive technologies. This article is part of the theme issue 'How does epigenetics influence the course of evolution?'


Original languageEnglish
Article number20200122
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1826
Early online date19 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2021


    Research areas

  • assisted reproduction, egg, epigenetic, oocyte, parental effect, sperm

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