How do warming temperatures affect plant fitness? ** Midyear 2019 honours

Overview: Understanding the effects of climate change on natural populations is a driving force for environmental and ecological science today. The ability of plants or animals to respond to changes in the environment they experience can determine whether populations will survive or go extinct in a changing world. The study of ‘phenotypic plasticity’, changes in response to environmental change, due to warming temperatures is a very active field of research, but our understanding of many fundamental issues is still unclear and will only be resolved by high-quality empirical experiments. 

Start date: Mid-year 2019

The project would make use of a large-scale experiment already running as part of an ongoing project investigating the response to temperature of an Australian Alpine herb (Wahlenbergia ceracea); we are considering a gradient of temperatures (rather than a simple hot-cold comparison) and a range of different traits. Ultimately, we are most interested in the effects on ‘fitness’: an individual’s contribution to future generations, and how this is affected by the environment – as well as other factors such as genes or ageing.

 This project would address four questions:

  • What is the best way to measure ‘fitness’ in plants?
  • How does fitness change across a temperature gradient, from too cold through intermediate to too hot?
  • Does variation in fitness have a genetic basis?
  • How does temperature affect ageing (or ‘senescence’) in plants?

It would involve a combination of experimental glasshouse work and empirical measurements on Wahlenbergia, and then analysis of the data; full training will be provided for all aspects, and you will be part of a larger team working on the plasticity in response to temperature.