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A new look into forecasting adaptive responses to climatic change

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  • Full or part time
    Dr L Orsini
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round

Project Description

Principal Supervisor: Luisa Orsini, School of Biosciences

Co-supervisors: Hui Li, School of Mathematics and Martin Widmann, in the School of Geography Earth and Environmental Science

The main objective of this project is to develop new analytical tools for accurate predictions of species resilience to future climatic changes. These predictions are currently inaccurate because: 1) long-term studies that investigate population persistence in the face of climatic change are lacking, and 2) the ability of organisms to evolve in response to environmental change is ignored in predictions of species survival. We will address these two important knowledge gaps.

To reconstruct evolutionary responses to centuries of anthropogenic changes in nature, the group of Dr Orsini uses resurrection ecology; the approach consists of performing experimental and genetic studies on resurrected dormant embryos of the crustacean Daphnia, a model species to assess water quality. These dormant embryos are collected from the sediment of lakes where they are in suspended animation for decades or even centuries. When they are brought back to life they can be used as an evolutionary time machine to travel back in time and study processes that triggered evolutionary responses and promoted population persistence. Dr Orsini’s group has collected data on adaptive responses of Daphnia to temperature and eutrophication at both molecular and morphological level over time spans of 100 years. This data will be used in the proposed project in combination with temperature observations and simulations for future temperature increase to formulate novel statistical models. Once a predictive framework is optimized for the model specie Daphnia, we will extend it for applications at ecosystem level to predict resilience of both aquatic and terrestrial habitats to future climatic changes. Our framework will thus be of wide applicability. The methods and tools developed for this project will further our ability to predict ecosystem persistence to climate change.

We will unify population modelling with the study of both ecological responses to environmental change as well as evolutionary (population genomics) processes reconstructed from empirical data. The effect of environmental stress will be incorporated into a population model to compute population growth as a function of environmental stress. Temperature observations will be taken from publicly available station datasets such as ECA-D (http://eca.knmi.nl/).
The developed climate envelope model incorporating long-term genetic and experimental data will be implemented in combination with climate predictions to estimate species abundance in the upcoming 100 years. These predictions will be state-of-the –art regional climate simulations available through EURO-CORDEX (http://www.euro-cordex.net), which will be further downscaled to the target location using statistical post-processing methods.

Please find additional funding text below. For further funding details, please see the ‘Funding’ section.
The School of Biosciences offers a number of UK Research Council (e.g. BBSRC, NERC) PhD studentships each year. Fully funded research council studentships are normally only available to UK nationals (or EU nationals resident in the UK) but part-funded studentships may be available to EU applicants resident outside of the UK. The deadline for applications for research council studentships is 31 January each year.

Each year we also have a number of fully funded Darwin Trust Scholarships. These are provided by the Darwin Trust of Edinburgh and are for non-UK students wishing to undertake a PhD in the general area of Molecular Microbiology. The deadline for this scheme is also 31 January each year.

Funding Notes

All applicants should indicate in their applications how they intend to fund their studies. We have a thriving community of international PhD students and encourage applications at any time from students able to find their own funding or who wish to apply for their own funding (e.g. Commonwealth Scholarship, Islamic Development Bank).

The postgraduate funding database provides further information on funding opportunities available http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/postgraduate/funding/FundingFilter.aspx and further information is also available on the School of Biosciences website http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/biosciences/courses/postgraduate/phd.aspx

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 42.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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