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Does phenotypic plasticity help or hinder rapid adaptation?

  • Full or part time
    Dr S J Plaistow

  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, January 08, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Anthropogenic stress is altering our planet at an unprecedented rate and has major implications for global biodiversity, health and the economy. Understanding the impact that these stressors have on ecology and evolution is imperative. Phenotypic plasticity - the ability of a single genotype to make different phenotypes in response to environmental variation – plays a critical role because it can diminish the heritable phenotypic variation that selection acts on and slow down adaptation, or it can enhance phenotypic variation and speed up rapid adaptation.

The evolutionary history of a population is critical because it determines how long selection has had to shape adaptive plastic responses to an environmental stress. In this context, the role that plasticity plays in adapting to climate change related stressors may be different to the role plasticity plays in adapting to ‘novel’ anthropogenic stressors, such as chemicals, which populations may have never been exposed to. Clonal organisms allow us to test this hypothesis because we can expose the same genomes to different environments and compare the effect that they have on individuals, populations and communities.

The aim of this project is therefore to sample Daphnia from populations with different evolutionary histories with respect to pollution risk and use them to test the hypothesis that plastic responses to climate-related stressors slow down rapid adaptation whereas plastic responses to ‘novel’ environments speed it up. You will then determine the relevance of your findings by comparing rates of adaptation in replicated, semi-natural populations exposed to combinations of stressors in a new state-of-the-art mesocosm facility. The successful candidate will join a well-funded laboratory investigating mechanisms underpinning rapid adaptation, and be part of a vibrant ecology and evolution group in Liverpool’s Institute of Integrative Biology where unparalleled facilities for conducting this research are available.

Funding Notes

Competitive funding of tuition fee, research costs and stipend (£15,009 tax-free, 2019-20) from the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership “Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment” (ACCE, View Website ). ACCE – a collaboration between the Universities of Liverpool, Sheffield,and York – is the only dedicated ecology/evolution/conservation Doctoral Training Partnership in the UK.

Applications (CV, letter of application, 2 referees) by email to deadline: January 8th 2020. Interviews in or after the week commencing : 10th February 2020. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed for only one project from the ACCE partnership.


Daniel E. Sadler, Franziska S. Brunner, & Plaistow, S.J. (2019) Temperature and clone-dependent effects of microplastics on immunity and life-history in Daphnia magna (accepted in Environmental Pollution),

Harney, E., Paterson, S. and Plaistow, S. J. (2017), Offspring development and life-history variation in a water flea depends upon clone-specific integration of genetic, non-genetic and environmental cues. Functional Ecology. doi:10.1111/1365-2435.12887

Plaistow, S.J., Shirley, C., Collin, H. Cornell, Harney, E.D. 2015 Offspring provisioning explains clone specific maternal age effects on life history and lifespan in the water flea, Daphnia pulex. The American Naturalist, 186 (3), 376-389.

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