Dr Lewis Spurgin (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia)
Dr Aldina Franco (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia)
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 driving mechanisms still remain poorly understood. This project will advance our understanding of how extreme weather conditions (heatwaves) influence reproduction and population viability in insects. We established in a model insect (Tribolium beetles) that reproductive function is especially sensitive to heatwave conditions (5-7oC above optimal for 5 days). Heatwaves damage male fertility and sperm function, and a second heatwave almost completely sterilises males (Sales et al 2018). Transgenerational declines in offspring fitness also occur if fathers or fertilising sperm experienced heatwaves. These findings create a firm foundation for this topical PhD project to assess whether reproductive thermosensitivity could contribute to recently-reported major declines in insect biodiversity. Priority questions here are: a) whether different insect life stages show varying sensitivity to extreme but environmentally relevant thermal regimes, b) whether recovery from reproductive damage occurs and, c) how heatwave conditions affect population viability?
Our Tribolium model is an ideal system for answering these questions (see references), and we will utilise new insect models as the project progresses. The PhD project will assay in detail how embryonic, larval, pupal, and immature and adult stages respond to heatwave conditions, and how environmental thermal stress impacts on population persistence or extinction. You will be trained to manage insect models and conduct, analyse and publish rigorously-controlled experimental ecology trials to reveal how heatwaves influence reproductive function, fitness, gene flow and population viability. You will master techniques in experimental design, phenotyping, microdissection and advanced in vivo and in vitro bioimaging. There are ample opportunities for the project to be developed independently.
You will join a welcoming and active research group generating world-class, NERC-supported science (https://matthewgagelab.com), an energetic ARIES cohort, and collaborate with colleagues across UEA, NRP and beyond. This environment will enable you to develop into an independent-thinking, international-impact scientist in a high priority area. You should have a degree in the life sciences, relevant research experience, and be passionate about understanding our natural environment.