Understanding Heatwave Impacts on Insect Reproduction and Population Viability


Understanding Heatwave Impacts on Insect Reproduction and Population Viability


Project Description


Professor Matthew Gage (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia) contact me

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

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

Project Background

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.

Person Specification

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.


  • 1. 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.
  • 2. Vasudeva R, Sutter A, Sales K, Dickinson ME, Lumley AJ & Gage MJG (2019) Adaptive thermal plasticity enhances sperm and egg performance in a model insect. eLIFE 8, e49452.
  • 3. 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.
  • 4. 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.
  • 5. Godwin JL, Lumley AJ, Michalczyk Ł, Martin OY & Gage MJG (2020) Mating patterns influence vulnerability to the extinction vortex. Global Change Biology 1-14.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2021. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2021.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) and research funding. For the first time in 2021/22 international applicants (EU and non-EU) will be eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences. 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.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside significant relevant non-academic experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship click on the “Apply now” link below.

Get in Touch

aries.dtp@uea.ac.uk /