Adapting to climate change: transgenerational acclimation as a mechanism of rapid evolution


Adapting to climate change: transgenerational acclimation as a mechanism of rapid evolution


Project Description


Dr Manuela Truebano, School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth

Prof Melody Clark, British Antarctic Survey (BAS)

Dr Helen Findlay, Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)

Dr Enrico Rezende, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC)

Dr Peter Cotton, School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth


In the context of climate change, it is imperative to determine to what extent species have the capacity to persist in a warmer environment. Yet beyond studies in model species, we understand little of the potential for adaptation in wild populations. While traditional studies predict that climate change will lead to a reduction in biodiversity, predictions are often based on short-term experiments focusing on one life stage or generation. Recent studies show that some aquatic species can acclimate to elevated temperatures, such as those projected under climate change scenarios, across generations. This phenomenon, known as “transgenerational acclimation”, could be a powerful mechanism by which populations of some species adjust to environmental change. Despite its potential importance in modifying species’ response to novel environments, its effects on species’ ability to respond long-term to climate change, in terms of fitness and reproductive output, are largely unexplored. Moreover, our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underpinning transgenerational acclimation is limited.

This project aims to investigate processes that lead to rapid adaptive responses by testing how parental exposure to thermally stressful environments improves offspring performance under the same conditions.


You will use an experimental approach to test the effects of transgenerational exposure to elevated temperatures on behavioural, physiological and life-history performance of ecologically-important aquatic organisms. Physiological and life-history measurements will be incorporated into predictive models to forecast potential population effects of projected climate change. You will use state-of-the-art genetic sequencing and bioinformatics to examine patterns of gene expression, and correlate them with physiological and behavioural performance of amphipods acclimated to elevated temperatures, to identify which genes drive acclimation in each trait.


You will join a multi-disciplinary team to develop expertise in ecophysiology, genomics, behavioural ecology, evolutionary biology, and population modelling. You will receive training in:

  • – Animal husbandry, eco-physiological (respirometry, thermal assays) and molecular tools (RNA isolation/QC, qPCR) (UoP)
  • – Bioinformatics (BAS)
  • – Population/physiological modelling (PML/UC).
  • – Data analysis, critical thinking, scientific writing.

The ARIES DTP provides a comprehensive training programme for transferable skills.

Person Specification

BSc degree in biology or related field. An interest in animal physiology and evolution, and strong quantitative analysis skills are essential.


  • Munday, PL. 2014. Transgenerational acclimation of fishes to climate change and ocean acidification. F1000 Prime Reports, 6:99.
  • Truebano M, Tills O, Collins M, Clarke C, Shipsides E, Wheatley C and Spicer JI. 2018. Short-term acclimation in adults does not predict offspring acclimation potential to hypoxia. Scientific Reports, 8: 3174.
  • Clark MS, Sommer U, Sihra JK, Thorne MAS, Morley SA, King M, Viant MR and Peck LS. 2016. Biodiversity in marine invertebrate responses to acute warming revealed by a comparative multi-omics approach. Global Change Biology 23: 318-330.
  • Truebano M, Fenner P, Tills O, Rundle SD and Rezende E.L. 2018. Thermal strategies vary with life history stage. Journal of Experimental Biology, 221: jeb171629.
  • Veilleux, H.D., Ryu, T., Donelson, J.M., van Herwerden, L., Seridi, L., Ghosheh, Y., Berumen, M.L., Leggat, W., Ravasi, T., Munday, P.L. (2015). Molecular processes of transgenerational acclimation to a warming ocean. Nature Climate Change, 5: 1074-1078.

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

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