Assessing the breadth and depth of heatwave impacts on reproduction across insect systems


Assessing the breadth and depth of heatwave impacts on reproduction across insect systems


Project Description


Prof Matt Gage (UEA Biological Sciences)

Dr Lewis Spurgin (UEA)

Dr Aldina Franco (UEA)


Earth’s climate is changing, and heatwaves are becoming more frequent and extreme. Biodiversity is responding to these changes by shifting ranges, declining and going extinct, but the proximate drivers remain poorly understood. We have established in a model insect (Tribolium beetles) that reproduction is especially sensitive to heatwave conditions (temperatures 5-7oC above optimal for 5 days). Heatwaves damage male fertility and sperm function, and a second heatwave almost completely sterilises males. In addition, we have discovered transgenerational declines in offspring fitness and lifespan if their fathers or fertilising sperm experienced heatwaves. These findings create an exciting foundation for a topical PhD to assess how such reproductive thermosensitivity applies across a representative range of species, and whether this phenomenon causes population declines under climate change. The project therefore aims to: 1) quantify heatwave effects on reproduction across temperate and tropical insects representing the major Orders including butterflies, moths, crickets and flies; 2) measure mechanistic causes and consequences of deeper transgenerational consequences of thermal stress; and 3) assess heatwave impacts on long-term population viability.

Approach and training

A range of study species amenable to experimental breeding and research are available for study, and the different project areas can be prioritized according to your own interests and abilities. You will be trained to sample, culture and manage different insects, and then conduct and analyse rigorously-controlled experimental ecology trials to reveal how heatwaves influence reproductive function, fitness, gene flow and population viability. You will master techniques in phenotyping, microdissection and advanced in vivo and in vitro bioimaging. The PhD provides an opportunity to answer relevant scientific questions about impacts of climate change on biodiversity.

Research environment

You will join a welcoming and active research group generating world-class, NERC-supported science, an energetic ARIES cohort, and collaborate with colleagues in UEA, Zurich, Krakow and beyond. This environment will enable you to develop into an independent-thinking, international-impact scientist in a priority area. You should have a good degree in the life sciences, relevant research experience, and be keen to advance scientific understanding of our natural environment. Contact lead supervisor Matthew Gage for further details:


  • Godwin JL, Vasudeva R, Michalczyk Ł, Martin OY, Lumley AJ, Chapman T & Gage MJG (2017) Experimental evolution reveals that sperm competition intensity selects for longer, more costly sperm. Evolution Letters 1, 102-113.
  • McDermott Long O. Warren R, Price J, Brereton TM, Botham MS & Franco AMA (2016) Sensitivity of UK butterflies to local climatic extremes: which life stages are most at risk? Journal of Animal Ecology 86, 108-116.
  • Lumley AJ, Michalczyk Ł, Kitson JJN, Spurgin LG, Morrison CA, Godwin JL, Dickinson ME, Martin OY, Emerson BC, Chapman T & Gage MJG (2015) Sexual selection protects against extinction. Nature 522, 470-473.
  • Michalczyk Ł, Millard AL, Lumley AJ, Martin OY, Emerson BC, Chapman T & Gage MJG (2011) Inbreeding promotes female promiscuity. Science 333, 1739-1742.
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