Could heatwave impacts through reproduction damage insect populations?


Could heatwave impacts through reproduction damage insect populations?


Project Description


Prof Matthew Gage, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia

Dr Lewis Spurgin, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia

Dr Aldina Franco, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

Dr Ian Bedford, Entomology Department, John Innes Centre



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. 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. There are also transgenerational declines in the fitness of offspring if their fathers or fertilising sperm experienced heatwaves. These findings create an exciting foundation for a topical PhD to assess whether such reproductive thermosensitivity could contribute to the worrying declines in insect biodiversity recently reported. The three core aims of the project are to: 1) quantify heatwave effects on reproduction more widely across some new and important insect groups; 2) measure varying sensitivity across different insect life stages to environmentally relevant thermal stress; and 3) experimentally assess heatwave impacts on population viability.


Different study species that are highly amenable to experimental breeding and research (some from collection of wild specimens) will be assayed, with the three project areas 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 experimental design, phenotyping, microdissection and advanced in vivo and in vitro bioimaging. This PhD is an opportunity to answer topical scientific questions about impacts of climate change on insect reproduction and biodiversity.


You will join a welcoming and active research group generating world-class, NERC-supported science, 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 strong degree in the life sciences, relevant research experience, and be passionate about understanding our natural environment.


  • Sales K, Vasudeva R, Dickinson ME, Godwin JL, Lumley AJ, Michalczyk Ł, Hebberecht L, Thomas P, Franco A & Gage MJG (2018) Experimental heatwaves compromise sperm function and cause transgenerational damage in a model insect. Nature Communications 9, 4771-.
  • 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.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.
  • Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area (see
  • This studentship will start on 1st October 2020, and the closing date for applications is 23:59 on 15th January 2020.
  • Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor.
  • Please note that the joint NERC-ESRC ARIES-SeNSS studentship projects have different deadlines and funding arrangements. For full details please visit, or contact

Studentship Open for Applications

Apply Now