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Adapting to climate change: transgenerational acclimation as a mechanism of rapid evolution


Project Description

In the context of climate change, it is imperative to determine to what extent species have the capacity to persist in a warmer environment. Yet beyond studies in model species, we understand little of the potential for adaptation in wild populations. While traditional studies predict that climate change will lead to a reduction in biodiversity, predictions are often based on short-term experiments focusing on one life stage or generation. Recent studies show that some aquatic species can acclimate to elevated temperatures, such as those projected under climate change scenarios, across generations. This phenomenon, known as “transgenerational acclimation”, could be a powerful mechanism by which populations of some species adjust to environmental change. Despite its potential importance in modifying species’ response to novel environments, its effects on species’ ability to respond long-term to climate change, in terms of fitness and reproductive output, are largely unexplored. Moreover, our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underpinning transgenerational acclimation is limited.

This project aims to investigate processes that lead to rapid adaptive responses by testing how parental exposure to thermally stressful environments improves offspring performance under the same conditions.

You will use an experimental approach to test the effects of transgenerational exposure to elevated temperatures on behavioural, physiological and life-history performance of ecologically-important aquatic organisms. Physiological and lifehistory measurements will be incorporated into predictive models to forecast potential population effects of projected climate change. You will use state-of-the-art genetic sequencing and bioinformatics to examine patterns of gene expression, and correlate them with physiological and behavioural performance of amphipods acclimated to elevated temperatures, to identify which genes drive acclimation in each trait.

You will join a multi-disciplinary team to develop expertise in ecophysiology, genomics, behavioural ecology, evolutionary biology, and population modelling. You will receive training in:

Animal husbandry, eco-physiological (respirometry, thermal assays) and molecular tools (RNA isolation/QC, qPCR) (UoP).
Bioinformatics (BAS).
Population/physiological modelling (PML/UC).
Data analysis, critical thinking, scientific writing.
The ARIES DTP provides a comprehensive training programme for transferable skills. BSc degree in biology or related field. An interest in animal physiology and evolution, and strong quantitative analysis skills are essential.

Supplementary information:

Adaptation through genetic evolution is unlikely to occur rapidly enough to allow species to cope with rapid environmental change. However, recent work has demonstrated that some organisms modulate their physiology, behaviour or lifehistories across generations. The process by which the environment experienced by the parents influences their progeny’s ability to maintain or improve performance in that environment is termed “transgenerational acclimation” (TA). Despite the recent interest on TA, questions remain unexplored:

1) While limitations have been identified in some species and traits our understanding of which phenotypic traits respond transgenerationally is limited.

2) Our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underpinning TA of specific traits is limited to tropical, warm-adapted fish. Further work on temperate (UK) and invertebrate species is needed to assess the generality of such responses.

3) While the importance of TA in modifying responses to novel environments has been demonstrated, its effects and costs on species’ ability to respond to climate change over longer timescales remain unknown.

Understanding the mechanisms and limitations of TA is essential, as TA may help buffer populations against the detrimental effects of climate change in the short-term.

This project will address the following questions:

Does parental exposure to detrimental, elevated temperatures affect offspring ability to maintain/improve performance under the same environment?
What are the mechanisms underpinning the TA of different traits?
What is the role of TA in the ability of populations to respond to climate change?
Are there any costs associated with TA?

How to apply

You can apply via the online application form which can be found at: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/student-life/your-studies/research-degrees/applicants-and-enquirers and click ‘Apply now’.

Funding Notes

The studentship is supported for 3.5 years and includes full home/EU tuition fees plus a stipend (2019-20 rate is £15,009 per annum, 2020-21 rate to be confirmed).The studentship will only fully fund those applicants who are eligible for home/EU fees with relevant qualifications.

References

Munday, PL. 2014. Transgenerational acclimation of fishes to climate change andocean acidification. F1000 Prime Reports, 6:99.

Truebano M, Tills O, Collins M, Clarke C, Shipsides E, Wheatley C and Spicer JI.2018. Short-term acclimation in adults does not predict offspring acclimationpotential to hypoxia. Scientific Reports, 8: 3174.

Clark MS, Sommer U, Sihra JK, Thorne MAS, Morley SA, King M, Viant MR andPeck LS. 2016. Biodiversity in marine invertebrate responses to acute warmingrevealed by a comparative multi-omics approach. Global Change Biology 23: 318-330.

Truebano M, Fenner P, Tills O, Rundle SD and Rezende E.L. 2018. Thermalstrategies vary with life history stage. Journal of Experimental Biology, 221:jeb171629.

Veilleux, H.D., Ryu, T., Donelson, J.M., van Herwerden, L., Seridi, L., Ghosheh, Y.,Berumen, M.L., Leggat, W., Ravasi, T., Munday, P.L. (2015). Molecular processes oftransgenerational acclimation to a warming ocean. Nature Climate Change, 5: 1074-1078.

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