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Diet and thermal limits: eating for survival and fertility

Faculty of Health and Life Science

About the Project

Aim: to understand how flies originating from different climates use food choices to survive and reproduce under temperature extremes.

Background: Climate change increases the frequency of extreme weather events. Heatwaves can kill organisms, but may also increase
extinction risk by harming fertility. Sperm are thought to be especially sensitive to heat, and male insects often become infertile at lower-than-fatal temperatures. But can organisms do anything to buffer against temperature extremes? Recent discoveries show that remarkably, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, changes its diet to buffer against heat and cold. It switches its food preferences in response to temperature, to obtain dietary lipids that allow it to better survive. Specifically, eating plant-derived lipids helps it survive the cold, while eating yeast-derived lipids helps it survive the heat. However, we do not know whether this adaptation is also present in other species that experience different climates, nor whether dietary changes improve reproductive performance, as well as survival, under temperature stress.

Objectives: The overall aim is to test whether different species of fruit flies, originating from a range of natural climates, use diet switches to survive and reproduce under temperature extremes. The specific objectives are: 1) To test the hypothesis that temperature mediated
diet switches are more prevalent in species that experience more strong seasonal temperature ranges. 2) To test whether dietary lipids alter the reproductive performance of males and females under temperature extremes. Skills: This project will involve experiments
with insects, studying behaviour and physiology, with the optional proteomics/metabolomics and modelling.

The project will be based in Dr Stuart Wigby’s lab at the University of Liverpool, in a dynamic and supportive environment, with co-supervisors Dr Tom Price (Liverpool) and Dr Nicola Hemmings (Sheffield), and collaborators Dr Marko Brankatschk and Prof Klaus Reinhardt (Dresden).


Notes and how to apply are available here:

Funding Notes

NERC ACCE DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starts October 2021.

UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2020/21 UKRI rate £15,285)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2020/21 rate £4,407)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)

Note - UKRI funding only covers UK fees (£4,407 at 2020/2021 rate). A limited number of international fee bursaries will be awarded on a competitive basis. However, if selected International and EU fee rate candidates may need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding. International fees for 2020/21 entry were £23,650 per annum.

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