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Fish Cardiac Physiology in an Era of Climate Change

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

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Dr H Shiels , Dr R Nudds Applications accepted all year round Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Effective cardiac pumping is critical to supply oxygen for all physiological functions and is a primary determinant of a fish’s upper thermal tolerance. This project will focus on mechanisms that account for the failure of the fish heart at high temperature and the large discrepancy for maximum heart rate that exists between fishes. The work is guided by the emergence of numerous studies showing that fish are either being threatened by increased water temperature or have relocated to cooler habitats globally. Irregular heartbeats are associated with cardiorespiratory collapse at supraoptimal temperatures and because heart rate reaches an absolute maximum near the optimal temperature in fishes, two hypotheses will be tested to determine the mechanistic underpinning for this limitation. The first proposes that the limitation lies with the cells of the cardiac pacemaker and the second posits that excitation-contraction coupling in the ventricle ultimately cannot keep up with pacemaker rate. These hypotheses will be tested using electrophysiology in single cells, optical mapping of the whole isolated heart; and in vivo measurements using echocardiography combined with ECG to identify other failings of integrated cardiac function in vivo. The student will be based in Manchester but will be encouraged to spend part of the degree working with other leaders in the field of comparative cardiac physiology. The opportunity to work in a consortium of labs will provides diverse and expert mentorship for development as a scientist. This PhD project is at the forefront of research on fish cardiac physiology and directly relevant to UK and global environmental concerns.

Funding Notes

This project has a Band 2 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website ( For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website (

Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor.


1. Vornanen, M., J. Haverinen, and S. Egginton, Acute heat tolerance of cardiac excitation in the brown trout (Salmo trutta fario). J Exp Biol, 2014. 217(Pt 2): p. 299-309.

2. Anttila, K., et al., Atlantic salmon show capability for cardiac acclimation to warm temperatures. Nat Commun, 2014. 5.

3. Eliason, E.J., et al., Differences in thermal tolerance among sockeye salmon populations. Science, 2011. 332(6025): p. 109-12.

4. Shiels, H.A., et al., Warm fish with cold hearts: thermal plasticity of excitation-contraction coupling in bluefin tuna. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2011. 278(1702): p. 18-27.
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